Women and children in Guyana face appalling abuses

Stabroek News

June 1, 2004

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Dear Editor,

Like the Cold War era, today alliances are forged in a 'war' against terrorism with blatant disregard for human rights. Human rights and support for democracy have been hijacked since September 11. They have tumbled like the Twin Towers into the abyss. The big powers are overlooking human rights and are committing wanton human rights abuses by breaking international laws, which brings me to Guyana. Human rights have improved in Guyana since 1992, but there is much more to be done in this area. One good thing that happened in the past weeks was the president's decision to appoint an independent commission to investigate human rights abuses in regard to the phantom gang.

However, I can't forget my last trip to Guyana when a young lady I grew up with and who is now a grown woman, revealed to me how she was abused after accepting a job in the city as a maid. That girl was under fifteen when she took that job. She screamed, "I want everyone to know what he did to me." We see in Guyana child labour all over the country. Delinquent children can be seen during school hours working or begging at airports, car parks, ferry stations and other business centres. The signing of international convenents and the passing of legislation will not eradicate these abuses. Institutions have to be strengthened and people have to be educated in order for these wanton abuses to stop.

Teenage girls are frequently seen around hotels with expatriates and local rich old men. Girls, we read, are being abducted and are at the mercy of powerful men. The poor and the needy, including women and children are easy prey in our society. Often, men are taking fourteen and fifteen-year-olds into hotels in Georgetown. This immorality must be stopped.

Children in Guyana are facing appalling abuses. They are kidnapped for sex or labour, or sold - although not to the degree that we see in Africa, Asia and other parts of Latin America. Sometimes they are forced to work under extremely difficult conditions, and imprisoned sometimes in cells with adults. We have also seen orphaned and abandoned children housed in appalling institutions where they suffer from cruelty, neglect and even death. For many students, life in and outside of the classroom is intolerable at the hands of peers and teachers; many children suffer under acts of discrimination, abuse, sexual violence, incest and harassment. Teachers are allowed to use corporal punishment on children.

There have been a few cases in Guyana where some children have complained about discrimination in schools because of their religion.

Ms Ryhaan Shah and Mr Ravi Dev have been instrumental in sensationalizing the issues of alcohol and suicide i the Indo-Guyanese community. Sadly, people still 'wine and go down' to lyrics such as "Rum till I die." Yes, this is a popular song in Guyana. No one stops to reflect how this reinforces negative behaviour or addiction in our society. If I had my say, this song would be banned. The proliferation of rum on estates since the arrival of Indians in British Guiana in 1838 enabled Indian men to forget the motherland. It continues to plague the Indian community in Guyana to this day. Rum is destroying families in Guyana.

The abuse of women is relentless, systematic, and widely tolerated, and not condemned strongly by society. It is sometimes even condoned. In Guyana there are specific legal, cultural, or religious practices by which women are systematically discriminated against, excluded from political participation and public life, segregated in their daily lives, raped, beaten in their homes, denied equal divorce or inheritance rights, forced to marry, assaulted for not conforming to gender norms. The latter has to do with 'cultural practices.'

We cannot argue that these are western ideas. On the other hand, the feminists of the West may be misguided. Many Western feminists regard religion as the main source of inequality between man and women.

The veiled women are always shown and discussed to exemplify the 'evil' of some states and the 'barbarism' of some religion. Feminists in the West do not only hold this perception but also those who want to demonize certain people and religions.

Yours faithfully,

Raymond Chickrie