Officials alarmed at growing child abuse

Guyana Chronicle
April 30, 2000

OFFICIALS alarmed at growing physical and sexual abuse of Guyanese children are appealing for stiffer penalties for perpetrators and a special centre to effectively deal with reports from victims.

At a recent workshop on how such abuse affects a child's development into adolescence and adulthood, social workers said "there should be more services for abused victims, whether children or adults, both men and women."

"Provisions should also be made for the mentally retarded and handicapped victims and more shelters with competent staff should be established," a report on the conference concluded.

It also said the Police Force, judiciary and parents should be more educated on child abuse.

The report recommended a family court, a home for abused children, more protection for rape victims, social workers in every school and hospital, continuous counselling services and reform of the law which relates only to penal penetration.

The one-day conference at the Genesis Complex on the West Coast Demerara was conducted by Dr Judith Lee, Dr Amanda Gaff and Dr Myra Marcus, professors of social work at Florida Gulf Coast University and organised by Sister Jacinta Sukhraj who manages Genesis.

In its conclusion, the report said police and court personnel should be timely in pursuing complaints.

"Both victims and perpetrators should be exposed to a period of counselling which should be made compulsory by the courts," it stated.

The report said participants called for the improvement of conditions at the New Opportunity Corps at Onderneeming, Essequibo which serves as a youth correctional centre.

"The situation there needs monitoring and more trained personnel to counsel delinquent youths referred to that custodial institution," it recommended.

The report said that State Prosecutor, Ms Roxanne George who participated in the workshop, advised that current legislation sometimes failed to address cases of abuse forcibly and there should be a revision of related laws. She noted that legislation in this regard is old and definitely does not address the myriad problems of child abuse.

The law allows the police to institute charges on parents for neglect or abuse of children up to two-years-old. A legally married person cannot give evidence against his/her spouse, but can do so in the case of child abuse.

George also said there is no mechanism for removing an abused child from his/her parents and the police cannot institute charges without evidence from either parent. There is also no enforcing mechanism for counselling and while perpetrators can be imprisoned, he/she can be put on a bond.

According to George, the Domestic Violence Act provides for abusers to be counselled, but services in Guyana do not target abusers.

"There is urgent need for new and workable legislation, a Family Court, advocacy for child rights laws, more counselling services, efficient medical care for victims and vibrant police services to institute charges and follow-up court proceedings," it stated.

Some participants pointed out that cases were sometimes dealt with in open court, further embarrassing victims, many of whom were young and could not deal with such exposure rationally. They also singled out the media for being "too vocal" about child abuse.

Participants urged training sessions to sensitise the police, teachers, parents and others on domestic violence and child abuse and how such negative behaviour can be changed in a professional manner to the advantage of both victims and perpetrators.

One participant who reported a case of a child being abused by her mother, said she did not know how to counsel the parties involved and Lee advised a role-play session which showed how this could be done.

The workshop was also told about specific incidences of abuse.

"Mention was made of a young woman who is now 19-years-old and was sexually molested by her step-father at age 14. She was removed from that environment, began attending church and was further sexually abused by the pastor six times. She was placed at a shelter, receives counselling, but is not responding positively. Most times she seems to be lost and helpless and has a low self-esteem."

In another case, a father is having a sexual relationship with the older of his two daughters because their mother refuses to sleep with him. Parents live apart and whenever the daughter, 14, takes his dinner, she is forced to have sex with him.

He gives her large sums of money and other gifts in return for these sexual favours. The girl attends school and the matter was reported to the police but the mother is refusing to cooperate and requesting that the authorities drop the matter.

The workshop heard another story of a 14-year-old girl whose mother died from HIV/AIDS. The teen resides with her step-father who puts his penis in her mouth and threatens to rape her if she tells anyone. The matter was reported to the police and the step-father has been held for questioning.

One case being investigated is that of a nine-year-old girl who begs on the streets and has sex with men for money. She has no one to take care of her.

In another, a mother sells drugs. She has a six-month-old baby and a six-year-old son. The baby was sodomised and had to be hospitalised and the mother has been held for questioning.

And in yet another case, a woman is in a common-law relationship and has a son from this union. Her paramour marries and brings a 19-year-old wife to reside with them. They all sleep together. Problems arose and the reputed wife becomes vocal. She is physically, emotionally and mentally abused, but remains in the home.

The report said several other sordid stories were told by participants and noted that most of the abuses occurred because husbands and reputed husbands were low-income earners, unemployed and dependent on their spouses or paramours and felt they were powerless to take action or retaliate.

Sister Jacinta urged participants "to take up the challenge to make a change in this situation that was dominant in the Guyanese society."

"Although we are all aware of how very widespread this problem is, yet very little has been done in the past to help the victims. On the contrary, the perpetrators of these crimes against our children go unpunished and we blame our children when they display all kinds of deviant behaviours," she stated. (NIVEDTA KOWLESSAR)