Women's groups lend support to mother of 13-yr-old
Stabroek News
June 1, 2004

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A number of women's groups and social organisations are now coming out to support Bibi Shameeza Hamid, a mother who is trying to retrieve her 13-year-old daughter who is embroiled with a city businessman.

Representatives of some of the groups contacted Stabroek News yesterday and said they would be issuing a detailed statement condemning the situation which they describe as disgusting.

But the show of support offers little comfort to Hamid who yesterday was still seeking the help of the police to have her daughter returned home.

The child, who was earlier said to have been kidnapped by Reeaz Khan, fled from her relatives at around 11.15 pm on Saturday through the pouring rain even as her mother and other family members ran behind her.

And undaunted by the controversy, Khan through his lawyer last Friday moved to the High Court and filed proceedings seeking to marry the child, a move which her mother said she would fight all the way.

In his petition Khan said he wanted to marry the child since among other things, "much love and affection had grown between us."

He also alleged that between March and April the child and her mother stayed at his home at 51 Eccles, East Bank Demerara.

Hamid yesterday vehemently denied Khan's charge yesterday stating, "they are all lies."

Meanwhile, the groups are planning to meet the authorities to discuss the reform of the laws that deal with the age of sexual consent in Guyana.

Another action planned by the women's groups is to have a signature campaign condemning the actions of the storeowner.

"We are all distressed by this man's actions and we want the child's mother to know that we are in support of the stance she has been taking," one woman said.

The groups are also exploring issuing a call for the boycott of the businessman's store.

On Saturday the child had reportedly used her aunt's phone without her knowledge and called Khan who is suspected to have picked her up in a small jeep, PCC 3725. Yesterday, the woman said that a man closely associated with Khan telephoned her and questioned why she had placed his vehicle's number in the newspaper.

"He call and tell me why I put he jeep number in the papers, but if the jeep didn't been outside my sister home and I didn't see me daughter jump in I would not have told you [this reporter] so. He den tell me dat I really getting he mad now and I just tell he dat I don't care," the woman said.

She said she has not heard anything from Khan since her daughter fled the home by slipping through her sister's back door while they were asleep.

'Courts powerless'

And the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) yesterday joined the Guyana Indian Heritage Association (GIHA) by issuing a release condemning the man's action and supporting the mother.

GHRA said the ongoing saga highlights the complete vulnerability of girl children to sexual abuse.

"This includes failure of the law to protect poor and vulnerable people, lack of judicial vigour, weakness 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 most vivid manner, how little has changed since slavery and indentureship."

The release said the Minister of Human Service should be required without delay to present the draft Bill on Children to parliament.

GHRA also slammed the delay between the first hearing of the case and the next hearing June 4 stating that it "is a barometer of how little courts view themselves as protectors of the poor and vulnerable against abuse by the powerful.

Moreover, the businessman's ability to flout a court order with such impunity shows how completely the powerful are above the law." The release also spoke of Khan's recent move to marry the child adding that in other cases mothers felt compelled to settle for marriage to avoid shame on their daughter.

"What this mother and her daughter have been put through by bureaucratic disdain and a tactless media would not encourage others."

What fellow Muslims are saying

Meanwhile, when contacted yesterday a Muslim scholar said there has been some movement towards discussing the issue and preparing a statement.

In the interim, he said that as long as a girl has reached puberty then she is able to get married. Another local Muslim said this was a sign from God that she was ready. The scholar also said that some strands of religious thought state that once a girl is willing the marriage could go ahead even without the consent of the parents or guardian although this is not the view held in Guyana.

However, he made it clear that there is a distinction in Islam between what is legally valid, the bare minimum, and what is proper. In this case, he said, the relationship, given the age of the girl, would not be proper and especially in Guyana, a Western society where childhood is extended. The girl has also admitted that she and Khan are having sexual relations, and the scholar said if this is indeed the case and the couple are not married under Islam then this is prohibited.

He noted the silence of the local Islamic community and conceded that while this might be seen as a form of consent this is not the case. This perception is partly because of an exaggerated view that the individual involved is a pillar of the community. But he warned that absent of an investigation, any statement on the matter may be incautious.

The matter became public when the woman had moved to the High Court seeking to have Khan produce her daughter after he had refused to return the minor to her custody. As a result, on May 20, Justice BS Roy instructed Khan to release the teenager into the joint custody of her mother and maternal aunt and to avoid contacting her.

The judge's instruction apparently fell on deaf ears as Khan allegedly abducted the child from her aunt's home the next day; she was returned to her mother at a private hospital early the following morning.

Stabroek News understands that Khan was on a committee set up by the Ministry of Human Services that would inspect orphanages but once the news of his escapade broke he was removed.

Hamid's matter against Khan is expected to come up again on June 4 before Justice Roy.