July 14, 2000
THE RECENT decision this week by Senior Magistrate Dawn Gregory-Barnes to order a young woman to spend three months at a home for battered women was both compassionate and positive. The ruling was wise in that it demonstrated the willingness of the legal system to explore rehabilitative treatment for those unfortunate persons who find themselves in the most untenable of circumstances.
The young woman was charged sometime last month with attempting suicide. She had locked herself in a room with quantities of newspapers and kerosene with which she started a blaze. Her reputed husband had broken into the room and put out the blaze before serious harm was done. He reported the matter to the Police, who duly charged her in accordance with the law.
On her first Court appearance, the woman was remanded until a Probation Officer could prepare a report on her background and current situation. Thus it was on the woman's second Court appearance that it was revealed she was depressed and in an abusive situation.
On Wednesday, July 5, this column had speculated just how therapeutic a two-week stint in the lock-ups would prove for a depressed and suicidal mind. We had gone on to suggest that it might have been more advisable for the young woman to be entrusted to the care of a home where she could receive counselling from an experienced social worker.
Whether or not we had an influence on the decision, the fact is we are gratified at the enlightened approach taken by Ms Dawn Gregory-Barnes and we are daring to believe that this case marks a turning point in the legal handling of sensitive situations.
As happens in many societies today, Guyana finds itself tested by unfortunate situations, many of which have their genesis in the abject poverty lived by a huge section of the population. This is the poverty that spells hopelessness and robs its victims of the will to survive.
We can recall the case of the 19-year-old mother of three from Sophia, who was charged with ill-treating her year-old baby. The girl, who was expecting yet another child, pleaded guilty to the charge and confessed to be frustrated in life.
It was the old story of repeated pregnancies for male partners who have a habit of becoming invisible during daylight and who, for various reasons, felt that they were under no obligation to contribute economically or otherwise to the upkeep of their offspring. Although it would be very much in accordance with the law, penalising such a woman would most likely result in increased suffering of her children.
The best possible solution for that youthful mother should have been a supply of basic groceries and practical utilities so that she could adequately feed herself and her children, a short and effective course in self-esteem, a skill such as soft-toy making or sewing that she could practise at home, and an assured market for her output until she is competent to launch her own mini-business.
In some situations, organisers of groups to help poor women manage to combine the skill-training with literacy with astonishing success.
We wish to applaud all those groups which are working to inspire hope and bring about improvements in the lives of the deprived and marginalised.
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