Renew commitment to eliminating sexual violence against women, girls
Stabroek News
March 7, 2004

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International Women's Day (IWD) provides an opportunity to renew national commitment to eliminating the high levels of sexual violence against women and girls.

And the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) says any assessment of the status of protection for women's rights in Guyana must include this type of violence which puts a serious stain on the record of progress in recognising and promoting rights of women and girl children.

In a press release to mark IWD, being celebrated tomorrow, GHRA says incidents of sexual assault against young girls are much higher than what is reported in the media, since the media is mostly restricted to urban areas. Towards the end of 2003, GHRA reported 16 known cases of women who had been violently killed during the course of the year in domestic incidents.

It has also received complaints of school-age girls from rural and interior areas being targeted systematically by sexual predators, prominent among whom are businessmen, minibus workers and truck drivers. These complaints include abduction, seduction of school girls, prostitution of under-age girls and rape of minors.

There are also complaints about the unwillingness by police officers to carry out investigations, widespread use of bribery of the police and other officials; inadequate probation service and a tendency of families of raped girls to accept a lump-sum payment to drop charges. All these factors create a climate of impunity in which male aggressors believe they will not have to account for their criminal actions, the release said.

The organisation says an investigation revealed that in rural areas, notably West Coast Demerara, where landline phones were recently installed there is a systematic campaign by Georgetown-based businessmen to contact 14- and 15-year-old girls. The investigation also revealed that minibus touts provide the girls' names, having identified them in the course of travelling from school. The number of a Georgetown business premises has been identified as the source of calls through the aid of a Caller ID.

GHRA indicated too that there is a drastic rise in the procurement of teenagers and very young girls (between the ages of ten and 12) for prostitution in the mining areas in the interior. The association says it has written to the Commissioner of Police and Chief of Staff of the Army about a particular mining settlement, manned almost exclusively by Brazilian miners, where trafficking in Amerindian schoolgirls for prostitution purposes takes place in range-type rooms set aside for the purpose. Brazilian girls are also being trafficked into the community. The influence of this activity is rendering Amerindian women and girls more vulnerable to sexual assaults as underlined by the recent case of a ten-year-old who was allegedly raped by a member of GDF.

In the light of the above, the GHRA says, it is making a number of recommendations, some which are already elaborated in the GHRA's 'Submission to the Disciplined Services Commission of Enquiry into Policing' with respect to women and girls who are victims of sexual assaults, abduction and rape. In particular, the GHRA recommends the following procedures should be revised:

i. Invoking the stereotype of Amerindian girls being sexually active at an early age as an excuse for inaction in cases of sexual assault should be cause for dismissal in any branch of the Public Service.

ii. The habit of medical practitioners routinely writing 'injuries are not life-threatening' on medical reports where rape or sexual assault has taken place should cease unless HIV/AIDS tests have cleared the victim. Rape is a prima facie life-threatening in circumstances of high incidence of HIV/AIDS and inadequate access to treatment such as prevail in Guyana.

iii. Local police personnel should vigorously enforce laws related to abduction, regardless of offers of marriage.

iv. Probation and Welfare Officers should make a concerted effort with the support of local religious leaders, to encourage parents/guardians of girl victims of sexual assault to press charges against aggressors, rather than settle for payments.

v. Sexual crimes by members of the GDF against women should be prosecuted by the civil courts, not treated as an infringement of military discipline.