Jamaica Observer:- A local pastor yesterday chided her fellow church leaders for not doing enough to counter human trafficking, as well as sexual, physical, and child abuse.
“We need to do better,” Dr Margaret Fowler of Hope United Church in Kingston, said in an address to the human trafficking conference in Trelawny.
Arguing that faith-based communities are not immune to child abuse, Dr Fowler said: “One of the most horrific things I have ever seen in my life was a little boy in basic school who would not come back [inside the classroom] and the teacher sent for his grandmother, who happens to be a church member of mine. She came into the schoolyard and she had something hidden behind her back, and as she came inside the schoolyard she had the biggest piece of board I have ever seen, and she lick the boy into next week.
“So when I told her that she can’t do that, [because] Jamaica has laws, she said, ‘Rev, children are a generation of vipers. It says that in the Bible.‘ So it is not only child trafficking we have to look at, it’s child abuse that happens right under our noses and in our congregations,” Dr Fowler said.
“The preaching from the pulpit that makes children and young people feel like dogs, we have to stop that. Our task as faith-based communities is to build people up, not knock them down,” Dr Fowler told delegates at the two-day international conference.
While noting that the clergy has a huge task on its hands, Dr Fowler admitted that sex scandals and human trafficking are not new phenomena.
“If you go to the Bible and check the story of Abraham, Sarah and Hagar it’s trafficking. If you look at the story of Joseph, it’s trafficking; the boy Joseph was trafficked, but yet the church takes a high-handed approach and does not say it’s wrong,” she said.
Dr Fowler, who is the founder of Theodora Foundation in Negril that has been providing support for human trafficking victims for more than 10 years, said if she had listened to the utterances of some members of the faith-based communities she would have turned a blind eye to human trafficking.
Referring to one of her visits to a club in Negril, during her research, she said she saw a deacon from another congregation who was astonished when he saw her.
“You ever see a black man turn white?” she asked. “So, brothers and sisters, don’t think that everybody that comes on a Saturday, Friday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Sunday is pure and holy, tried and true, okay. The church has it flaws. The faith-based communities are trying our best. Do we need to do better? Yes!” she said.
Arguing that churches need to do more than trying to convert sex workers to Christianity, she said that this approach is oftentimes not realistic, given the fact that sex workers would normally earn more in a night compared to what they would earn in a week as domestic helpers.
She argued that prior to a number of recent sex scandals involving pastors, the church was respected for the work it was doing, especially with children and young people.
She said that after the scandals, her church developed a child protection policy which prohibits members of her congregation and pastors from interacting with children unless they have submitted fingerprints, obtained a police record, and participated in the training.
She also recommended that churches have on file proper documentation of their members, including volunteers.
Dr Fowler, who is also chair of the National Task Force Against Trafficking in Persons (NATFATIP) Protection Subcommittee, said that in order for the church to partner with agencies to develop a sustainable framework to combat human trafficking, faith-based institutions must develop a standard policy.
Earlier this week, NATFATIP chair Carol Palmer urged faith-based organisations to support the Government’s efforts to combat human trafficking by providing shelter for victims, helping to raise awareness, and operating hotlines, among other things.