A bitter commentary in this season of children
June 18, 2004
WAS there ever a season such as this? Has this nation ever lived through a period that is characterised daily by reports of young children being sexually violated or physically brutalised and of teenagers dying from suspected ingestion of lethal narcotics? Less than one month ago, as the people of Guyana joined the rest of the world in observing the International Day of Children, there came a welter of reports of child fatalities and child victims of sexual and physical violations. Within one week, there were two incidents of infants dying reportedly by the hands of parents because the babies would not stop crying! A teenage ‘exotic dancer’ from Guyana died mysteriously of “natural causes”, while on a dance assignment in St Maarten. Just a few days later, two young men, who were said to be natives of Jamaica, died as a result of ingested narcotics. One young man died while he was on board an aircraft flying from Guyana to the United States, while the other drug mule was reportedly in Linden awaiting his turn to leave Guyana for the United States on the same mission. He never made it. And in a morbid twist of the tale, some persons allegedly attempted to remove the dead youth’s body from the mortuary at Linden.
Other misfortunes afflicting the nation’s youth and children include numerous incidents of rape and carnal knowledge with most of these unspeakable acts being perpetrated by persons well known to the families of the children, or by persons biologically related to the children. At the moment, the Guyanese society is convulsed over the legal implications and the perceived immorality surrounding a relationship between a 13-year-old girl child and a businessman, who is said to be in his 30s. To the surprise of not a few Guyanese, the country’s legal luminaries have cited the current law as permitting a girl, who is 13 year of age to participate in sexual relations. For years, many persons believed that only girls above the age of 16 could legally consent to sexual relations and that any male who engaged in such an act with a girl under 16 would be charged with statutory rape.
Many persons are now asking the obvious questions: How come this most archaic of laws escaped review and revision during the consultative process of Constitutional Reform some years ago? Where were the voices of the women’s activists and social workers? We are told that a committee headed by the respected Chancellor of the Judiciary Ms Desiree Bernard made several recommendations on this matter some years back, but that these recommendations have not yet reached the stage where they could be enacted into law. Further, those prominent individuals acquainted with the Guyana Constitution revealed at a meeting convened by human rights activists last week that the ages defining a child in the Guyana laws range from 12 to 18 years. Further, the meeting heard, the only definition of a child as being a person under the age of 18 is found in the Domestic Violence Bill, which was enacted in the mid-1990s. Also, this example is the only one that concurs with the age definition declared in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Perhaps Guyana’s legal minds and professional social workers would join forces to make as uniform as humanly possible all those disparate ages of child definition in the present Constitution.
While the revision of laws pertaining to children and the age of sexual consent is no guarantee of the protection of children from unspeakable abuses, we can hope that greater discussion and wider dissemination of such subjects would help to sensitise all members of the society to the sacred imperative of upholding the human rights of the nation’s children.