Rise Bahamas Recognizes Government’s Strides

Founder of Silent No More (center) Cindy Godet speaks about being a survivor of child abuse at the We Won’t Rest Press Conference held in Parliament Square on May 5, 2022. From left to right are: A volunteer (in mask), Davina Smith, founder of Save Our Daughters, Cindy Godet, founder of Silent No More and Terneille Burrows, founder/president, Rise Bahamas. Photo by Azaleta Ishmael-Newry

Rise Bahamas takes note of the recent momentum pertaining to child protection and Marco’s Law which, is comprised of a missing child alert system and a Sex Offenders Registry. They commend the government on finally bringing this to pass. The law came about as a result of the murder of 11 year old Marco Archer in 2011 and there has been consistent advocacy by their nonprofit and others over the years.

“It’s a good improvement to see these steps after us advocating for such a long time,” said Terneille Burrows, founder/president of Rise Bahamas. “However, we would like to see more done, and we are proposing a Bella’s Bill.”

Over the past 8 years, Rise Bahamas has actively advocated for the implementation of Marco’s Law. They have posted missing children posters on Facebook, demonstrated at Rawson Square, created a public service announcement, petitioned the government, sent reports to the United Nations and made media appearances.

Recently, many residents contacted Rise Bahamas to inform them that they had received a test of the Marco’s Alert on their Android phones. The “Mandatory Aggressive Action for Rescuing Children Operation (MARCO) Alert” is like the Amber Alert in the United States, where citizens receive electronic alerts when a child has been abducted or goes missing.

Assistant Commissioner of Police, Zhivago Dames recently stated that they hope in the upcoming months, Apple iPhone users will be included in the alert system. Additionally, Marco’s Alert will be used to send notifications to the public regarding hurricanes and other national emergencies. Apart from the billboards and text messages, Rise Bahamas expects a standardized protocol for posting missing children photos and alerts through television and online media.

Instances of some missing persons, also considered runaways, are on the increase. In 2021, the Royal Bahamas Police Force reported that throughout The Bahamas there were 143 missing persons, compared to 100 in 2020.

All missing individuals for both years were found safe. In July 2020, Commissioner of Police, Paul Rolle stated that the majority of people who went missing for the first half of the year were “adolescent girls.”

Many of the missing girls are believed to be victims of statutory rape. “In my career as a child advocate, I’ve realized that suspected statutory rape incidents are not taken as seriously as they should be. Regardless of the age of a child, it they are under 16 years of age, by law, they cannot give consent. These girls need to be rescued, not ridiculed or victim-blamed,” said Burrows.

Rise Bahamas has been a strong advocate for Marco’s Law since 2014 when they held demonstrations, posted in social media and met with the government. Shown are the are demonstrators in Rawson Square.

Apparently, the Sex Offender Registry came into effect a few years ago but is currently not retroactive. Rise Bahamas believes that it should go back one to two decades and that first time sex offenders should also be included on the Registry. In early May, on the sixth-month mark of the murder of 4-year-old D’Onya “Bella” Walker, Rise Bahamas along with campaign partners: FOAM – Families of All Murder Victims; Save Our Daughters; Rights Bahamas; D’Marco Foundation; The Dignified Girl Project; Hanna-Carey Cares Foundation; Silent No More; Resilience Girls Empowerment Program; S.O.C.A – Save Our Children Alliance and Our Sanctuary – called for a bystander intervention legislation. This
proposed legislation dubbed “Bella’s Bill” seeks to mandate reporting of any knowledge of crimes against children by their immediate family, guardians or caregivers.

Rise Bahamas hopes that this Administration will engage with its organization and others to implement our proposed Child Protection Action Plan that was presented to First Lady Ann Marie Davis at the Office of the Spouse in April 2022. The organization is awaiting appointments to meet with the Attorney General’s Office and the consultant for the Sex Offenders Registry.

Terneille Burrows thanks those members of the public who reported abuse against minors and maintains that anonymous bystander intervention can save scores of children from abuse, and in some instances, death. If you suspect that a child is being abused, please call the 24-hour National Child Abuse Hotlines at (242)322-2763 or mobile at (242) 422-2763.