In May of this year, I travelled to Washington DC, and while there, on May 6th, the news broke that three women – Amanda Berry, 27, Gina DeJesus, 23, and Michelle Knight, 30 – missing for several years, got a chance to live free again when Berry saw a chance to alert neighbours and escape. The alleged kidnapper, Puerto Rican national Ariel Castro, had kept them confined for between 7 and 11 years. What these women went through is beyond imagination. The turmoil, the distress, had seemingly come to an end.
On May 28 back in Jamaica, I heard about Natasha Brown, a 4-year-old child, who went missing. Her teachers said she did not show up at school. By evening time, the child’s body has been found in a pit. A woman, Marvia Patterson, who has had children for Natasha Brown’s father, was charged with the crime.
I started to wonder and think about the many people who have been kidnapped over the years and are still being kept under lock and key. Two cases of kidnapping, two different outcomes. The reasons for kidnapping are various but include extortion, ransom, revenge, slavery and sexual assault. We have heard of many cases of kidnapping in recent years in Jamaica. With the advent of smartphones and social networking, people are more aware of what is happening in their world. Alerts for missing children seem to be broadcast daily. If there is any chance of finding the abducted, then publishing a photo will help. Friends share with other friends, and hopefully something will come up. Someone will recognize the photo and try to figure out if they have seen this child in their area recently. Prayers sent up, police on high alert.
The Caribbean on the whole has had several reported cases of kidnapping. Trinidad ranks second in the world behind Colombia for its rate of abductions. In late 2012, the U.S. State Department issued a warning to advise travelers that it was unsafe to travel to Haiti because of high levels of murder and kidnapping. Sanders (2003), in his publication “Crime in the Caribbean: An Overwhelming Phenomenon,” found that kidnapping seemed to be part of the criminal landscapes of Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana. Evidence showed that kidnapping negatively impacted the tourism industry and the general social life of citizens. People were afraid of going to restaurants and parties because of the fear of being kidnapped.
We have to be careful, watch children and never leave them alone. I believe we need to talk to our children more about the reality of kidnapping, explain to them the dangers of going off with a stranger. Let them know that if they feel they are in an uncomfortable situation, then bring it to the attention of their parents, a teacher or relative who they can trust.
When I was younger, I used to go off alone to meditate and explore, but this, I’ve learned, can be dangerous in and of itself. We should walk in groups. Never try to go anywhere alone without alerting someone of your destination. Don’t drive through lonely roads at night. Shortcuts can be dangerous at any time of day.
In Bible days, kidnapping was punishable by death. In Jamaica, the maximum sentence for kidnapping is life imprisonment, whereas child-stealing carries a maximum sentence of seven years’ imprisonment.
If kidnapping is to be curbed in the Caribbean region, we all need to work together, watch for the advisories and be our brother’s keeper. We hear the Jamaican proverb ‘ebry dyay debble help teef; wan dyah Gad wi help watchman’ and realize we cannot despair when it appears that these unscrupulous persons continue to take advantage of us. God never sleeps and is fully aware of everything that occurs.