With the first duty of the State being to protect its citizens it is imperative that this be enshrined in every action and law. In reality as we survey much of the world such a fundamental belief is often held to be a laudable, if a somewhat unrealistic ideal. In any society protecting, valuing and empowering the people can seem an onerous and expensive task. Faced with such a challenge governments the world over invariably resort to lofty rhetoric without committing sufficient time or resources to implement real change. A direct consequence of this failure by the State is that the weak, the poor, the vulnerable and the marginalised are placed in real danger of falling victim to the heel of insolent might in its many and varied forms.
The Somali territories face monumental challenges in regards to addressing geo-political tensions, the needs for state building after internal or external conflict and the constant battle to address issues related to water security and the vicissitudes of climate change. Whilst these issues exercise those that walk the corridors of responsibility we must not lose sight of other dangers that have the capacity to blight and destroy lives on a daily basis. Whilst the politician, the clan elder and community leaders are quite at ease talking about infrastructure initiatives, the need for schools, clinics or wells, they are decidedly uncomfortable when it comes to issues such as child protection, domestic abuse and sexual violence being raised. Society as a whole profoundly disapproves of public discussion of such topics, the taboo being so powerful that those that raise them are invariably viewed as in some way suspect. Well at the risk of being deemed beyond the pale, I am going to raise my head above the parapet to voice concerns that should concern each and every one of us. I speak not of human rights, but of human wrongs.
Criminal psychologists the world over agree that those who actively seek to abuse and hurt others often use social stigma and fear as a means to intimidate and silence their victims. Many victims continue to endure years of physical, psychological and sexual abuse precisely because they can see no way out. Perpetrators carry on their nefarious activities confident in the knowledge that their victims are trapped in a cycle of fear, shame and confusion. Society rather than helping victims, makes matters worse by reinforcing the taboos that exist around certain issues. Invariably a wall of disapproval greets those that have the temerity to raise such matters. Foreigners that do so might be tolerated, only because they are viewed differently, but locals often face social ostracism and even threats for doing so. All societies have within them individuals intent on causing misery and suffering, to admit as much is not a slur on any given culture or community, it is just an acknowledgement of a universal truth. Rather than rounding on those who articulate such a fact we should be working to address such human wrongs and provide a secure environment in which victims feel able to speak out without fear of censure or worse. The distasteful nature of human wrongs might offend our sensibilities, but surely our discomfort is as of nothing to that which the victims have had to endure. Rather than ignorance being bliss, it can often assist those seeking to exploit and abuse. Some communities have routinely deny that any such problems exist and in so doing create a favourable environment in which abuses feel confident to act with impunity. Society must not be complicit in such activity by its silence, rather we must speak out and do all in our power to ensure that systems are in place to minimise risk. Let us save our indignation and opprobrium for those responsible for pernicious acts that cause untold misery.
The reality is that human wrongs are perpetuated by individuals from every strata of society. No walk of life is fee from such malign activity. Often those who are seemingly the most respectable among us use their status to prey on and abuse others. As shocking as it might seem the home, schools, universities, madrassas, refugee camps and places of work are all locations where dark deeds are carried out with alarming regularity. There is no room for complacency on an issue of this gravity. No one should under estimate the enormity of this problem. No matter how disquieting such issues are, it is imperative that we be prepared to challenge our normal assumptions. Rather than looking the other way or rushing to judgement we must work to ensure such dangers are tackled in a reasoned, practical and sensitive manner. Education is central to such an approach and this is as true of our legislative leaders as it is of ordinary citizens. By addressing the knowledge deficit we are better able to put in place appropriate safeguards. As to what those safeguards should be, there are plenty of examples of best practice that can be drawn upon and adapted to suit local circumstances. Appropriate training is of paramount importance, especially for professionals such as teachers and medical professions as well as the police and members of the judiciary. For all sorts of reasons, training, where it exists, is invariably woefully underfunded and whilst well intentioned, it is often not fit for purpose. It should be a matter of deep concern that some legislators and members of the judiciary are utterly out of their depth on such issues. Sadly, arcane and occasionally irrational judicial decisions often appear to have more to with personal prejudice than they have to do with legal process and the rule of law.
Whilst it is easy to be critical of the Judiciary no one should be under any illusion of the fact that the task facing law makers and law enforcers is a daunting one. Opportunities for abuse have grown massively in recent years due to increased connectivity via mobile telephones, social media and the Internet. Deviants think nothing of inveigling their way into the lives of the young, the naïve and the vulnerable, only to betray their trust in a most ghastly manner. Online grooming is a relatively new and sinister phenomenon, one that casts a dark and menacing shadow. In addition there is growing anecdotal evidence of members of the Diaspora and some foreign nationals travelling to the region to engage in illicit sexual encounters, sometimes with children who are under age. Criminality of this nature is extremely grave and warrants a concerted local, regional and international response. Furthermore the deliberate and calculated radicalisation of the young is a pressing concern, one that if left unchecked is likely result in death and destruction.
It is often said that the true mark of a civilized society is the way in which it protects its most vulnerable. In recent years a number of splendid initiatives have been introduced across the Horn of Africa with the intention of fostering greater empowerment, engendering a duty of care as well as seeking to raise awareness of the need to combat violence against women and girls. These initiatives should be welcomed, but we should be under no illusion that a considerable amount of work remains to be done. The vast majority of Somalis want to live in communities that are safe and secure, and where the young, whether male or female, can grow up to live happy, healthy, safe and fulfilling lives. Each of us must resolve to play our part, and in so doing be better able to thwart those intent on inflicting suffering.
Mark T. Jones
International Speaker & Leadership Specialist