Are we serious about child protection?
Kaieteur News

June 13, 2004

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It seems as if our children are increasingly being subjected to abuse in one form or another. Scarcely a day goes by without the readership of the various newspapers being regaled about some violation of a young child.

The Reeaz Khan affair is just one of the numerous reports over the past few weeks. Of course, Khan, quite rightly can argue that he has done anything wrong by starting a liaison with a child. This has been the case in this country from as long as men began seeking young women for wives.

Various writers have attempted to explain this fact. Some argue that parents wanted to avoid embarrassment by way of a promiscuous child so as soon as the girl attained puberty they hastened to find a husband. Whether this need is still there is another matter. Suffice it to say that older men are still going after girls in their early teens.

This past week, there was the report of an 11-year-old girl who happens to be HIV-positive, obviously infected by a grown person. This child is mentally retarded. Why she was not protected from predators? Surely her parents would have been aware of her condition and should have exercised greater supervision.

Too often this is the case with many households shirking their responsibility to their young children. Because of this we have the large number of street children, many of them young girls who are abused by men who have no scruples. One newspaper reported that in Berbice, the criminal sessions contained more cases of sexual abuse than any other. Many of these cases of sexual abuse involve men who are either related to the young victim or who know the victim. One case engaging the attention of the court involves a middle-aged man who raped his very young niece.

We also have cases of fathers engaging in sexual intercourse with their daughters.

How can we protect out children when the very people entrusted with their protection end up abusing them? Justice Claudette Singh jailed a man who took advantage of his position as head of his household to rape a girl. He was the girl’s stepfather and she called him uncle.

But children need more than protection from sexual abuse. We have had too many cases of parents leaving children all alone at home. In many instances these children set the home afire. Just last week a toddler died. He had been left alone at home with an equally young sibling when a fire broke out. Both of them sustained burns.

We rarely hear of the parents who abandon their children being prosecuted. Perhaps the powers that be would conclude that the pain suffered by the child is enough punishment for the parent.

They forget that some parents inflict even more pain on the child. One young man ended up without fingers because his stepfather held both of his hands in afire simply because the child took a piece of meat from his plate.

Other parents have done equally cruel things. Some used boiling water to scald a child and others used sharp instruments. A few days ago the magistrate jailed a mother for four months because she severely beat her four-year-child to the point that the marks of the beating are still visible.

Needless to say, such abused children would run away from home and the parents would do nothing to have them returned. The reluctance to prosecute such parents suggests collusion between the state and the errant parent, to the disadvantage of the child.

Last week, some caring people took away a baby from a woman who roams the streets with the baby, who is mostly hungry because the mother cannot nurse the child. These women did so with the hope of giving the child a chance in life. The authorities refused to go to the aid of the infant. Instead they ordered the women to hand back the child to the mother.

Guyana is a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child but it does not have one single facility to protect children. This is not to knock the privately-run orphanages. We know only too well that some organizations have set up facilities for children who do not have a roof over their head. But at the national level, the paucity of such a protective unit was made very clear when the courts could not find a home suitable to accommodate the 13-year-old girl embroiled in the brouhaha with Reeaz Khan.

As a last resort, the court had to have the child taken at the New Opportunity Corps, a location usually reserved for errant children. In this case the judge was at pains to inform the custodians of that facility that the child was in no way a prisoner and should not be treated as such.

When would the state find it necessary to provide homes to indicate that it is indeed serious about the welfare of children? And when will we deal condignly with those of us who prey on and abuse children?