On Saturday as the sun warmed the streets washed by over-night and morning rain, about 50 people walked through Roseau to the Botanic Gardens to raise awareness of the scourge of child abuse in Dominica.

Dressed in white t-shirts the group of mainly women walked behind a truck in which someone with a megaphone shouted:

"It is time to stop hiding child abuse"

"This is serious Dominica"

"Break the silence now. At school. Break the silence in our churches"

"Child abuse should not be tolerated"

At the Gardens, near the Gazebo, the small group of mainly women and girls (there were about three men) listened to a statement from a representative of "The United for Children Club" from Convent High School.

She said the group was formed to raise awareness of child abuse and to encourage reporting.

Report every suspicion, she encouraged her listeners, even if later investigation indicate that the report was inaccurate.

"United for Children is a new club of students from the Convent High School who are outraged by child abuse especially when young children are sexually abused by paedophiles, or when underage teens are exploited by older adults," the club said in a statement. "We stand with survivors of child abuse and say "be strong, be courageous, do the right thing and report child abuse."

Tina Alexander, a child rights advocate and a member of the NGO Coalition for the Protection of Children and Youth (NGO-CPCY) led the solidarity walk.

Meanwhile, the NGO-CPCY issued a statement last week for the adoption of the amendments to the Sexual Offences Act, mandatory reporting and the immediate suspension of anyone in a responsible position charged with sexual abuse or assault.

The Coalition said it believes that all abused children deserve to be supported and protected by everyone in society.

"Their pain and hurt is unimaginable and often invisible, it is wrong when they are subjected to blame, insult and victimization," the statement said. "The NGO Coalition will continue to emphasize that there is NO EXCUSE for abuse, exploitation, incest or any sort of sexual contact between adults and children. The age of consent for girls and boys in Dominica is sixteen.

"Sexual contact without consent is a crime. Therefore no person should have any form of sexual contact with a child under sixteen at all. A person committing this criminal act, irrespective of social status, sexual orientation, race or political affiliation should be reported, arrested and sentenced according to Dominica`s laws".

It added: "We are still waiting for the recommended amendments to the Sexual Offences Act to be adopted as promised".

The NGO-CPCY said the revised law should result in stiffer sentencing for those convicted of rape, especially for those who are found guilty of abusing children or those using violence.

"We call on all agencies, private, government or non-governmental organizations to follow our lead and adopt a policy of mandatory reporting," the statement said. "This means that anyone who knows that a child is being abused and does not report it, can face serious consequences".

We also strongly recommend the implementing of an ethical code of practice whereby any employee, team member or volunteer arrested for any offence, is suspended from duty until such time as the case is determined. This is already the case with teachers and police officers and should be introduced as the expected procedure for all those in positions of authority or in contact with children.

The NGO-CPCY said sexual abuse includes: unlawful intercourse, both vaginal and anal (buggery), oral sex, touching of the genitals, even through clothing, for the purpose of sexual stimulation, photographing minors naked, grooming (seducing the child for the purpose of later introducing sexual behaviour), sending explicit video material and sexting.

"Real men and women do not abuse children," the statement said.

These are the current members of the NGO Coalition:

ChildFund Caribbean; Dominica National Council of Women;

Caribbean Male Action Network Dominica CARIMAN;

Lifeline Ministries; West Dominica Children's Federation; East

Dominica Children's Federation; Dominica Art and Craft

Producers Association; Dominica Girl Guides Association;

Love One Teach One Foundation; CALLS; Dominica Planned Parenthood Association; National

Youth Council of Dominica; Dominica Association of Persons with Disabilities and Social Centre.