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Tuesday, July 18, 2006 

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Homes crisis linked to child sex abuse

By Sam Strangeways

Bermuda's housing crisis is contributing to the problem of sexual and physical abuse of children, the chairman of a charity warned last night.
Sheelagh Cooper, from the Coalition for the Protection of Children, said overcrowding of homes – as revealed in a report published yesterday on the Island's families – was a contributing factor in some cases of abuse.
"I think that probably has a lot to do with the rise that we have seen in physical or sexual abuse," she said. "It raises the stress levels when you have too many people in too small a space.
"That alone isn't a healthy environment. When you add to that what actually occurs in families anyway, it's exacerbated by the inability of the household members to have their own space."
The Department of Statistics report, entitled Characteristics of Bermuda's Families and based on data from the 2000 census, shows there were 29,107 families living in just 25,148 households.
"Right there you can see that we have a housing problem," said Ms Cooper.
The number of families consisting of three or more people living in a studio or one-bedroom home was 867. Fifty percent of families with four or more people were living in three-bedroom homes, 32 percent were in two-bedroom units and and five percent were in homes with one bedroom.
The report states: "To some extent, this reflects a degree of overcrowding based solely on the fact that the number of persons surpasses the number of bedrooms.
"The full magnitude of the problem would require a complex analysis by relationship to persons within the household. A further study of multiple families would also reveal the reason that families share accommodations."
Ms Cooper said overcrowding often exposed youngsters to "things that one would prefer them not to be exposed to".
"If there is any abuse or physical violence or behaviour that's traumatic to a child that takes place the child is going to be very aware of it because it's right under their noses," she said.
She added that the findings raised the question of whether having an adequate, affordable home was considered a right or a privilege in Bermuda. "If it's a right then we have to rethink our policy," she said.
The census data also reveals that 6,328 children were living in single-parent families, with 6,056 of those Bermudian. Black children were more than four times more likely to live in a lone-parent family than white children.
The report shows a "significant racial difference amongst single-parent families" with 22 percent of families headed by a black person led by a single parent, compared with six percent of families headed by a white.
Five out of ten black children lived in families containing married couples, compared to nine out of ten white children.
There were 112 families in which children were being raised solely by grandparents - and two-thirds of those were families headed by grandmothers.
Ms Cooper said many families consisted of three generations of women, with mothers and children living with grandmothers. "That increases the family size which is how Bermudians end up more and more densely populated," she added. "But the thing this census data didn't pick up was that there are multiple families living within many, many households who are not declaring their existence."
Penny Dill, executive director of the Women's Resource Centre, said the report raised concerns about the economic outlook for women on the Island.
The data shows that single mothers earned about $10,000 a year less than single fathers. "What would be good would be to be able to capture how many of those females actually own their own home," she said.
"My concern is that these women who head up the families are within ten or 20 years of retirement. Are we going to see a huge group of women who because of the low income level are never going to be able to own their own home?
"They are really going to be looking at their children to take care of them in their later years."

Copyright ©2005 The Royal Gazette Ltd.

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