Vanuatu is a nation of warm and hospitable people, and it is sometimes called “A Jewel of the South Pacific.”  Anyone who has visited Vanuatu would be familiar with the bright smiles and kindness of the people.

However, sadly, there is a blight that covers the nation. Village life is the heart of the community but within many communities, there is a circle of silence and shame. Child abuse in Vanuatu is among the highest in the world. 80% of young women report that they have been sexually molested before the age of fifteen. Tragically, the usual culprits are the fathers, uncles and grandfathers. While the Government is working hard to address the problem the code of silence and shame hinders any investigations.

Operating on the principle of working from the bottom up, Marine Reach’s Family Care Centre has launched our “Keep Safe” programs for schools across Vanuatu. Aimed at small children, the program is based on New Zealand’s Keep Safe program and adapted for the Melanesian culture. While the program is in its infancy, the aim is to reach every school in Vanuatu over the next few years.

Presented by visiting teams such as DTS outreach teams or church teams, the program consists of five cards that explain to children those parts of their bodies that are off limits to anyone but healthcare professionals.  The cards emphasise that NO means NO and every child has the right to resist sexual advances when it occurs. The program is especially welcomed by teachers and parents who reinforce the lesson during and after the presentation.

If we can change the thinking of these children who are groomed to believe sexual abuse is OK, we can stop the abuse and prosecute the violators.  This is one of the very few programs presently being presented in schools in the nation today.

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