Protecting the rights of our children Editorial
Kaieteur News
June 2, 2004

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Yesterday, Guyana observed International Childrenís Day at a time when the rights and welfare of children are of great concern to many Guyanese.

One of the most interesting developments regarding children in Guyana is the much anticipated June 16-17 caucus convened by the National Commission on the Rights of the Child (NCPC) under the theme, discipline without beating.

The caucus at Pegasus Hotel will be headed by First Lady Varshnie Jagdeo. Delegates are scheduled to discuss the merits and demerits of corporal punishment and children drawn from primary and secondary schools throughout the country will be invited to comment on this issue.

While it is useful to hold such a caucus at this time, one suspects that the practice of corporal punishment in Guyana is so deeply entrenched that this issue would continue to be passionately debated long after the Pegasus event has ended.

The elimination of corporal punishment entirely does not seem to be on the cards. But it would be good if the caucus could establish reasonable boundaries between discipline and brutality.

It is sad but true that corporal punishment is not the most serious evil facing children in Guyana. Sexual abuse of children in all its ugly forms has reached shameful levels in Guyana. As recently as March 21, 2004, Kaieteur News had the cause to draw the publicís attention to a state of 23 child molestation cases in an eight-week span. While figures like these are shocking enough, what is more deeply disturbing is that reported sexual abuse of children is only part of the story. These figures do not include cases that are not reported or cases of physical abuse, emotion, neglect, or abandonment.

There is unimaginable suffering behind the statistics of all forms of child abuse. Figures cannot fully convey the pain of individual children who have been traumatised by child abuse.

Studies done by behavioural scientists show that such abuse has long-term psychological effects on victims, creating serious social problems. Many victims have great difficulty fitting into society as adults. They tend to be susceptible to vice and violence, often becoming abusers themselves in a vicious circle of pain. The Convention on the Rights of the Child adopted by the United Nations, including Guyana, sets out basic human rights for children and protects these rights by setting minimum standards that participating governments must meet, guaranteeing these rights to children in their country.

This involves reviewing laws, assessing social services, legal, health and education systems as well as levels of funding for these services. The Untied Nations Convention feels this should be done to the maximum extent of countriesí available resources and is necessary within the framework of international cooperation. The convention specifies that such changes must not be imposed from outside but should arise from local activities and processes.

Based on statistics from the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security, there is need to intensify local activities and processes to raise awareness and ensure total inclusiveness in the struggles to get rid of child abuse in Guyana.

The Government cannot do this alone. There needs to be a concerted national effort with expanded activities and increased community participation. In particular, there should be a review of existing penalties for child abuse to assess their effectiveness as deterrents and increase their severity as necessary.

It is vitally important to take concrete steps now to stamp out child abuse and promote better understanding of childrenís needs and rights. We need to address this issue directly if International Childrenís Day is to have any real significance in Guyana.

Prevention is better than cure and in terms of child abuse, any incident greater than zero is too much for this nation to bear.