Youth parliament
Opposition wins debate on restricting access to porn
Stabroek News
May 30, 2002

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The majority of the youth parliamentarians yesterday exercised conscience votes to support the opposition moot that tighter restrictions should be placed on public access to pornography in Guyana.

Debated at the Savannah Suite of Le Meridien, the opposition, led by Rosalinda Rasul, introduced the motion 'There should be tighter restrictions on public access to pornography in Guyana', while the government led by Shion Thomas, opposed it.

Parliamentarians were then required to vote according to their conscience and 18 of the 29 members voted for the motion. Ten voted against and one abstained. The government side comprised 17 MPs and the opposition 12 which meant that at least six MPs from the government benches voted with the opposition.

There was a packed audience consisting of school children, some members of the diplomatic corps and others. President Bharrat Jagdeo declared the session open.

Judges for the proceedings, who were tasked with coming up with the best speaker, best presenter and overall the best parliamentarian, were attorneys-at-law Raphael Trotman and Priya Manickchand; Human Resources Officer at the Guyana Public Hospital Corporation, Bert White; and lecturer at the University of Guyana, Freddie Kissoon, who was the chief judge. The judges found that Lester Paul, of the opposition side, won all three categories.

Yesterday's debating exercise was of a high quality as most of the parliamentarians appeared to have done extensive research on the topic to support their points, even though in most respects the opposition outwitted the government whose main argument was that to impose tighter restriction on the access to pornography was an infringement of persons' rights.

Speaker of the House, Sherod Duncan, took his job quite seriously and on numerous occasions reprimanded members whom he thought were being disruptive to the session. He actually suspended shadow Finance Minister, Romeo Seenjan for two minutes after the member said "Thank God" when his colleague on the opposite side, Ronald Harsawack, was told by the speaker that his time was up. Duncan said that he found Seenjan's actions an attempt to be disruptive to the house.

In her opening argument to support the motion, Rasul made mention of the Chapter 8:02 of the Laws of Guyana, which says that persons selling and printing pornographic materials are guilty of an offence which is punishable by law.

Rasul noted that the law dealt with printed material and posed the question of what happens to the video club proprietor who rents a pornographic cassette to a minor. "What happens to the cinema owner who allows children who are properly attired in uniform to gain access to their cinemas to see pornographic movies?" she questioned.

She also spoke of the internet cafes where children could access pornographic sites, pointing out that the law was obsolete and needed to be replaced with laws that would address the issues she mentioned. She also noted that the age of consent for sex was 13 years old. "What is that telling you?" she questioned rhetorically, responding that the child would be open to a number of risks, one of which was to be exploited by pornographic promoters.

"Mr Speaker pornography has detrimental effects on society, it degrades women and desensitises viewers, it increases the crime rate, rape, molestation are all on the increase," she argued.

Thomas, the Prime Minister, rebutting, quoted from Article 40 of the Constitution: "Every person in Guyana is entitled to the basic rights, to a happy, creative and productive life, free from ignorance and want." She mentioned the same law Rasul spoke about and asked how much more draconian the opposition wanted the government to get. She said that the opposition was not considerate of other persons' freedom. "Mr Speaker, is the opposition telling us to cross the line and to infringe on human rights of our people?" she questioned. According to her a survey carried out by the Ministry of Information found that pornography was not a pivotal issue in Guyana.

Some other arguments put forward by the opposition to support the motion were that some television stations were guilty of showing films that were riddled with violence and obscene sexual activities which is supposed to be an offence but no action is taken.

It was put forward that Cuba, which has a restriction on pornography, has the lowest rate of HIV infection in the hemisphere as well as a low crime rate. One parliamentarian made mention of the case in Great Britain where two brothers killed their younger sister after viewing a film and admonished the government that the "time to act is now, our society is at stake."

It was stated that in a survey conducted at video clubs all over the country, it was found that all that was required was a registration fee and an identification card, after which anyone could borrow cassettes under the name registered, even children.

One opposition member also spoke extensively on the Flame newspaper, which was once published in Guyana and which had scantily dressed women on its cover and other explicit information on sex.

"Which minister in the government would want to see their children holding a copy of the lawless mid-week paper?" the member questioned.

According to the opposition, a survey it carried out found that out of the 45% of persons viewing pornography on the internet, 30% were between the ages of 13 and 17. It was found that 25% of the persons viewed it in internet cafes, ten per cent at home, five per cent at school and five per cent at home.

The government stated that in its survey it found that a mere 66% of those surveyed were exposed to pornography and a mere 26% of this number viewed it on the internet. It was stated that the moot sounded good in theory but in reality it actually infringed on the rights of people.

One minister told the house that the government was not a Taliban regime, referring to the fundamentalists who once ruled Afghanistan, and that it recognised the freedom of expression and religion.

It was pointed out that the laws existing were the very laws enacted by the opposition which once governed the country. That member of the government noted that the Amerindians in their native environment could be seen existing almost naked and according to him it was not because of a lack of underwear, but rather their culture. "Can we put a restriction on their culture?" he asked.