A Change is within range: Sexual Offence Court now in session – By Yvonne Sam

A Change is within range–     Sexual Offence Court now in session.

By Yvonne Sam

Dear Editor,

It is every parentworstnightmares on discovering that not only did their underage child have sex, but is also bearing the fruit of such an act. For centuries, the law formally forbidding sexual activity with children has operated on the basis that there is a certain age below which children cannot consent to sex. Currently in Guyana the age of consent is 16. This age was raised from 13 to 16 on October 31, 2005 by a unanimous resolution of the Parliament of Guyana, amending.       

Chapter 8.01 of the Laws of Guyana, Criminal Offences Act.

Reading about the gravid eleven year old (Kaieteur News, November 29) whose life is currently hanging in the balance, speaks volume of the moral decay that currently engulfs Guyana. It is apparent that pedophilia continues to be alive and well, with the burgeoning practitioners displaying blatant unconcernregarding the implications or consequences of their vile actions. Evidence has shown that underage pregnancy and childbearing can have accompanying serious negative effects on the child and mother both physically and emotionally.  In order to become fully functional and successful members of society, children need time to grow and develop, again both physically and emotionally. The task of rearing a child is not an easy one, for it extends far beyond the provision of food and shelter.  Hence it is not something that any individual should be forced into or has to deal with before they are ready.

While this is certainly no time for any finger pointing the situation nevertheless cries out for serious addressing and redressing at all levels. Firstly from the maternal perspective, there is an obvious displayedfailure to provide the child with enough moral guidance, along with overt superimposed neglect and gross unconcern. Seeing that the hapless victim had commenced her menstrual cycle, who assumed the responsibility to ensure the continuation of a normal physiology? Did the child display any behavior suggestive of sexual interaction? Were any of the multiple signs of early pregnancy evident? Did the child ever complain of any symptom suggestive of conception? Did no one notice an enlarging uterus that became an abdominal organ at twelve weeks?On a more serious note the relationship between mother and daughter needs to be carefully scrutinized, as the child her secrets did hide, rather than in the adult confide.

It is at this juncture also that one must question the rationale behind the newspaper reporting that the child in question was of mixed ethnicity?  Are we to assume that females of mixed ethnicity possess a proclivity for underage sex and pregnancy, or was the information aimed at mentally alleviating and assuaging other concerned and interested parties on the level of ethnicity related

According to newspaper reportthe female 10 years old at the time of the alleged assault resided in a home on the Linden/ Soesdyke Highway with her mother and 18 year-old brother, and to the best of her knowledge the child only went to school and to the shop, leaving the mother at a loss as to where and how it could have happened. The veracity of such a statement opens wide the door to divers interpretations, up to and including whether a male teacher could have been a reacher, or merely attending school was not exactly cool.

The ongoing increase in these sexual crimes should be an obvious concern not only for parents,civic –minded citizens, religious leaders, women’s organizations, lawyers, justice system and governmental agencies especially the Ministry of Social Protection tasked with the responsibility of protecting children. Guyana is a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child which was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on November 20, 1989.  In 1991 the Guyana Government ratified the Convention, establishing a National Commission on

March 1, 1993. This National Commission for the Survival Protection and Development of Children was appointed to prepare a Guyana National Plan of Action for Children to the year 2000.

It is somewhat disheartening that even after all these years, along with theenormity of publicity that accompanied the case of ReeazKhan, there still remains a lingering increase in the reported cases of statutory rape. Much has been done but very little headway made, seemingly the result of more rhetoric than action. On a heartening note, however (better late than never) the Guyana Supreme Court of Judicature on November 13 last, opened a victim-centered Sexual Offences Court, aimed at reducing the upsurge in sexual related offences.This landmark court was initiated as a result of the Sexual Offences Act 2010, under the directives of former Education Minister PriyaManickchand. At the opening of the court Acting Chancellor of the Judiciary Yonette Cummings-Edwards, stressed the need for such a court, by highlighting the statistics showing where more than half of the cases before the Demerara Assizes, sexual offences made up half of the list. Hopefully, there would be a swift call to justice and the punitive measures meted out would be fully reflective of total non-tolerance.

As a supporting measure, it is imperative that everyone speaks out loud and long and far and wide against these reprobates old or bold, who continue to perpetrate these dastardly sexual acts against females especially young underage children.  Parents are implored to have serious discussions with their children about sex, consequences of unprotected sex, abstinence, contraception and drugs. Granted each female develops differently, and the age when discussion about these topics becomes appropriate may differ, but sex and sexuality must be addressed, along with public awareness campaignsespecially in the hinterland. Males also need to be educated regarding sexual responsibility.

The life of this hapless underage female, along with that of her yet unborn all stand as a glaring testimony showing how once again adults and institutions especially the educational systemhave failed Guyanese children. A successful outcome is wished her.

Once the perpetrator is revealed, the punishment should befit the crime in a manner never before seen in Guyana, sending a clear message to the next—verify the age before having sex. There is no rush to judgment, as all should wait and see if the brother could the putative father be.  If this is positive, then the government should prepare the nation for its first known case of chemical castration.  And if further factual evidence gives proof that the mother was aware and showed little care, then the full extent of the law should not her spare. However, before deciding her fate, one should assess her mental and psychological state.

With the opening of a Sexual Offences Court replete with adequate judiciary and legal personnel, and at the risk of sounding overly optimistic, it is my fervent hope that now the machinery is in motion, it remains on track,gradually gaining momentumas it heads towards total eradication of the sexual scourge that now covers the land.

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