Saga of businessman, teen, highlights vulnerability of girls to sexual abuse
--Says Human Rights body
Guyana Chronicle
June 1, 2004

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THE on-going saga of businessman Reeaz Khan’s pursuit of a 13-year-old girl highlights the complete vulnerability of girl children to sexual abuse, according to the Executive Committee of the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA).

According to the human rights body, this includes failure of the law to protect poor and vulnerable people, lack of judicial vigour, weaknesses of the child welfare services, religious indifference, Ministerial sloth with respect to law reform and the inclination of the media to protect the powerful.

“For girl children to be treated as a commodity by a male dominated society demonstrates, in the most vivid manner, how little has changed since slavery and indentureship,” the GHRA said in a statement.

“Whether the outrageous details of this case will surmount the legal judicial and bureaucratic torpor that for ten years has successfully prevented the draft Bill on Children becoming law is yet to be seen,” the GHRA asserted.

The body is calling on the Minister of Human Services to present the Bill to Parliament without any further delay.

“The delay between the first hearing of this case and the next hearing on June 4 is a barometer of how little the Courts view themselves as protectors of the poor and vulnerable against abuse by the powerful,” GHRA posited.

“Moreover, the businessman’s ability to flout a Court Order with such impunity shows how completely the powerful are above the law,” GHRA alleged.

“While the Reeaz Khan case is shocking the nation, abduction with the aim of marriage is by no means exceptional or isolated. It rarely reaches the Courts because the families involved, unlike the mother of this case, feel compelled to settle for allowing the marriage to avoid shame on their daughter (but) what this mother and her daughter have been put through by bureaucratic disdain and tactless media would not encourage others,” the GHRA contended.

In a previous press release, the GHRA had called for “Police personnel to vigorously enforce laws related to abduction, regardless of offers of marriage. In adopting this position we are guided by Article 38C of the new Constitution which states that the best interests of the child shall be the primary consideration in all judicial proceedings and decisions and in all matters concerning children”.

At the same time, the body indicated that it is aware that for the Police to be effective they need support from law reform, particularly on the age of consent.

“The confusion surrounding age of consent arises because most people think the Bernard Committee’s recommendation, unanimously accepted a decade ago to be raised to 16 years was implemented…unfortunately this is not the case, as noted above,” the GHRA stated.