`Reflect on values regarding sexual conduct'
- CIOG urges society
GHRA plans meeting to discuss new age of consent
Guyana Chronicle
June 6, 2004

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TWO more prominent civil society organisations have recently spoken publicly on the Reeaz Khan matter, while another has refrained from commenting, at least for the time being. A fourth is planning action to deal with the age of consent issue by way of a proposed parliamentary committee.

In a press release entitled `Moral Perspective' and signed by Kerry Arthur, Director of Education on its Central Executive Council, the Central Islamic Organisation of Guyana (CIOG) urged that "Guyanese use this fiasco to reflect on ourselves, our values and our commitment to the Lord, Most High specifically with regard to sexual conduct and not to degenerate into a self-righteous lynch mob."

In his statement, Arthur said caution should be exercised by all commenting parties until the facts of the case are ascertained. The CIOG executive offered what he referred to as points of clarification in regard to Sharia (Islamic Sacred Law), which have come to the fore because of the affair. He said that although marriage and [its] consummation - initial sexual intercourse between a wedded couple - are permitted once puberty is reached, it is not always deemed appropriate. He added that fornication and adultery are considered, under Sharia, "fatally sinful acts because sexual intercourse is illegitimate and socially and ethically dangerous outside of the institution of marriage."

He said that impropriety should not be tolerated simply because the age of consent in Guyana is below 14 years of age. He said that the CIOG, however, sees the issue as not so much as one of propriety but concerned with "the twin evils of fornication and adultery..., which are pervasive in our society." In light of this fact, the organisation wonders why special attention was focused on the Reeaz Khan matter (Khan is prominent member of the Islamic community in Guyana) when there have been weekly reports of similar or worse incidents.

Arthur says that Khan should not be excused if he is guilty of any legal breach, an issue for the courts to decide; on the question of the "more serious moral crimes of fornication and adultery, none of us should be excused."

The Guyana Association of Women Lawyers (GAWL) has also sent out a press release in which the organisation said that it "notes with concern the recent revelations about the reported relationship between city businessman Reeaz Khan and a 13 year-old girl, which have generated significant outrage and protest." The letter, signed by the GAWL President, Sandra Bart, said that since the matter is sub judice, it would be inappropriate for the organisation to comment on it.

The Association stated that while this particular matter has been brought into the public domain, there are many other cases "for which there is no, nor can there be any, legislative sanction." The release noted that the bulk of cases for trial at the Demerara Criminal assizes are sexual offences, which include 11 cases of carnal knowledge of a girl, 35 cases of rape, two cases of incest, and two cases of buggery.

Meanwhile, Chairman of the Guyana Council of Churches (GCC), Bishop Juan Edghill, told the Sunday Chronicle that the GCC will not comment on the Reeaz Khan affair at present. He said that the Council will have to meet before it decides whether the issue is one on which it wishes to pronounce.

So far, several organisations have come out with statements on the saga, most of them condemning Khan's actions. These organisations include the Guyana Indian Heritage Association (GIHA), Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA), the Indian Arrival Committee (IAC), the Women's Progressive Organisation (WPO), the People's National Congress/Reform (PNC/R) and Red Thread.

In related developments, the GHRA is proposing concerted action be undertaken on two fronts by civil society to strengthen child protection. The organisation is inviting all interested organisations and individuals to a meeting aimed at supporting a specific parliamentary initiative to fast-track legislative protection of children against sexual assaults and consider other actions for the longer term.

The meeting is being held with a view to generating broad-based agreement on, several issues:

(i) A new age of consent.

(ii) Fast-tracking the issue through Parliament

(iii) A medium term strategy to deal with paedophilia-related issues

(iv) Committing the Children's Bill to Parliament.

According to a release by the organisation, the primary agenda of the meeting will be that urgent action is needed to amend sections of Ch.8:01 of the Criminal Law (Offences) Act that address the age of consent. Article 69(1) states that carnal knowledge of a girl above the age of twelve years and under thirteen is a misdemeanour liable to five years imprisonment. Article 69(2) states it is a reasonable defence if the accused person had cause to believe the girl was above 13 years. Article 70 states that carnal knowledge of any girl under the age of 12 years is a felony and liable to life imprisonment. The aim of the proposed action is to have these articles amended to raise the minimum age of consent.

The meeting will address a strategy for securing a range of tighter protections against paedophilia in the medium term.

The Children's Bill 2002 - which deals mainly with civil rather than criminal issues - still requires considerable work before it can be passed into law. According to GHRA, "having languished for almost a decade at Ministerial level, this project needs a new lease of life. We are proposing that any further work on the Bill ought to take place within the context of a Select Parliamentary Committee. To set this process in motion, we need to mobilise around having the Bill sent immediately to Parliament."

Several parliamentary options to obtain rapid legal changes will be explained at the meeting. Resource persons with parliamentary and legal experience will be available.

The meeting will be held at the Guyana Human Rights Centre on Tuesday June 8 at 16:00 hrs - 18:00 hrs.