Police workshop spotlights child abuse
Stabroek News
September 24, 2002

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Some 30 police officers are involved in a three-day work shop aimed at helping them recognise and handle cases of child abuse.

The 'Child Abuse/Neglect Management' workshop is coordinated by the National Commission on the Rights of the Child (NCRC) in collaboration with United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the Guyana Police Force.

The workshop was declared open yesterday by Minister of Home Affairs, Ronald Gajraj in the presence of Commissioner of Police (ag), Floyd McDonald, First Lady Varshnie Jagdeo, who is the chairperson of the NCRC, members of the diplomatic corps, child right activists and senior officers of the force.

Dr Jacqueline Sharpe, a Trinidadian who is the facilitator of the workshop, said she hopes it will be interactive and participatory and that the officers would have an opportunity to share their experiences and learn new skills needed to address all forms of child abuse, including physical and emotional abuse, neglect, abandonment, sexual abuse and exploitation. Further it is expected that during the workshop officers would be able to recognise the various symptoms since officers have to play advocacy and protective roles.

Sharpe said officers would also develop skills from the law enforcement perspective in how to deal with child abuse cases.

Information will also be shared on what officers need, to effectively work with children who are abused. Sharpe said she was tasked with helping the officers to become mentors for the rest of their careers and she would assist them on how to become trainers themselves in the child abuse field.

UNICEF's Programme Officer, Barbara Atherly, pointed out that in January of 1991 the Government of Guyana ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child which states that all children are entitled to: the right to survival, the right to the development of their full physical and mental potential, the right to protection from influences that are harmful to their development, and the right to participation in family, cultural and social life. She said since the government ratified the convention it is obligated by international law, to do all within its power to adhere to its articles.

According to Atherly, in Guyana there are many stories of children who prefer the unknown hazards of the street to the unbearable conditions at home, where they are constantly deprived of love and dignity, where they are called names and told by their mothers that they wished they were never born, where they are exposed to the abuses of visiting relatives and friends, and where food is scarce and comfort of any kind is scarcer.

"There are stories of parents and guardians who physically abuse children as deterrents to stealing and other demeanours. There are even horror stories of the sexual exploitation of little boys and girls; of children so battered and scarred that by the time they are taken away from their parents, over 75% of their bodies are scarred for life; of children who have been abandoned and left to fend for themselves, and are exposed to accidents, exploitation and other such dangers," Atherly said.

There are also cases of children who are deprived of an education because they are put to work at menial jobs or as petty retailers in order to help support an impoverished family; and those within the school system who are subject to corporal punishment.

"These stories, horrendous and heart rending as they always will be, have not been enough to make the case against the persistent and pervasive incidence of all forms of abuse committed against the children of Guyana," she pointed out.

Atherly disclosed that a 1993 UNICEF study revealed that 21.6% of all deaths as a result of homicides and injuries occur among children below the age of fifteen. Further, a Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) study reported that 15.7% of males and 13.7% of female Guyanese adolescents have reported physical abuse and that only two to three out of every ten cases of sexual abuse are reported. And another study in 1996 showed that 5.3% of males and 7.7% of females aged 13-15 may have been sexually abused.

"These statistics tell an equally gruesome tale with 53% of all sexual abuse cases taking place within the home by trusted adults or by relatives.

She said a UNICEF report recommended that police officers undergo mandatory training in the detection and investigation of child victimisation and "it is heartening to see that this has become a reality."

Gajraj noted that the importance of such a workshop in this period could not be overly emphasised. Gajraj gave an in-depth presentation on the different types of abuse and what should be done in such cases along with some of the difficulties.

This might include the failure to report such matters to the police. He gave the example of the perpetrator being the breadwinner of the home and should the matter be reported more than likely the person would be incarcerated. On another issue the minister said that he came across cases where parents are only bent on receiving money from their child's misfortune never taking into consideration what impact it would have on the child.

According to the minister for 2001 there were some 626 reported cases of domestic violence while so far for this year 614 cases of domestic violence have been reported.