Rights groups outraged by 'exploitation' of 13-year-old
-'can't vote, drive or leave school but can have sex'
Stabroek News
June 2, 2004

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Several human rights groups have expressed outrage at the "exploitation" of a 13-year-old girl by city businessman Reeaz Khan noting how vulnerable low-income women and girls are to the abuse of privilege and influence by members of the rich and powerful elite."

The girl has been at the centre of a battle between her mother and Khan. The mother says that Khan took the child away, had sexual relations with her and did not want to return her to her mother's custody. Khan in turn has applied to the courts for permission to marry the 13-year-old.

The human rights groups are calling on the government to immediately enact legislation that would make the age of consent 16 years.

The statement was signed by Red Thread, Help & Shelter, the Guyana Association of Professional Social Workers, Women Across Differences, Guybernet, the Amerindian Action Movement of Guyana, the Guyanese Organisation of Indigenous Peoples', and the National Amerindian Development Foundation.

The groups have pledged to support the mother of the girl in her fight to ensure the safety and well-being of her child.

Further, the groups noted that the central concern to them must be the protection of the child, whose age is not in dispute. They pointed out that at 13 she is without most legal rights.

"She does not have the right to vote, the right to drive, or the right to leave school. What an anomaly, therefore, that the law does not protect her against sexual exploitation by adult predators. Yet the Government of Guyana is signatory to the Convention of the Rights of the Child..."

"As citizens of Guyana and as parents and guardians, all need to raise their voices and redouble their efforts to achieve the legal and supportive mechanisms for the protection of children."

They issued a call to the government to immediately act on the recommendation of the Bernard Committee to raise the age of consent to 16 years for sexual relations with adults and urged the immediate implementation of mechanisms such as the Family Court and related child services to ensure the widest scope for child protection.

The Guyana Indian Heritage Association (GIHA) and the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) have also issued statements supporting the woman and condemning Khan's actions.

Meanwhile Bibi Shameeza Hamid, the mother, yesterday continued the fight to have the child return home after she had fled on Saturday night from her aunt's home.

The woman yesterday noted that Khan claims to have no knowledge of where her daughter is but maintained that the child was bent on fleeing to him after a court order had returned her to the custody of her maternal aunt and mother.

Hamid said the vehicle the child got into last Saturday night was one that she knows is associated with the businessman, who according to her had taken the child away from her aunt's home the following morning after a court order was issued instructing him not to make contact with the child.

Let the public judge - Khan

Given an opportunity yesterday by Stabroek News to respond to the charges, Khan questioned why this newspaper had not made contact with him from the inception.

"Why is that Stabroek News did not contact me even though I am just a few blocks away from their office? Why is it you did not contact me by telephone the same way you did now? Is this fair and balanced journalism? I think not, the public could be the judge of it."

He said serious allegations were made against him in the newspaper's reports and by all rights he should have been given an opportunity to speak.

However, he declined to make any comment on the matter expect to say, "Stabroek News had done their part by achieving some of their goals." He said he would continue to speak to two other media houses because "they are balanced".

Taken to Chinese restaurant

According to Hamid she had first met Khan when she and her daughter were standing on the road awaiting transportation to go to Parika and he had stopped and offered them a lift. She said Khan had gone and shared out food to poor persons in the area and on their way back he stated that he had some vegetables to drop off in town adding that they should all go to dinner at a Chinese restaurant in the city. It was at that time some photographs were taken. Some of these photographs were carried in yesterday's edition of the Kaieteur News. One photograph showed Khan feeding the girl with a fork while the mother looked on. The woman said she thought Khan was a man of God and was behaving fatherly to her child.

She said that they spent the night at Khan's home on his insistence and the following morning he offered to have her child do `work-study' at his business place saying he would have returned her home the same afternoon. He never did and when the woman approached him he refused to return the child and after all efforts failed the woman said she gave up.

It was at this point Hamid said she attempted to commit suicide by drinking poison. This led to her being hospitalised. While in the hospital a public spirited citizen approached and after hearing her story assisted her to get a lawyer who moved to the High Court and filed habeas corpus proceedings which saw the child being produced in court and Justice BS Roy releasing her into the custody of her relatives. The child escaped from her relatives' home on Saturday and it is unclear where she is at the moment.

Hamid also stated that she was surprised to see a story in the Kaieteur News yesterday, which purported that she had spoken to that newspaper. The woman said she had an interview with Prime News and at that interview an individual asked her several questions and the answers she gave him were the ones she saw in the newspaper.

'She love that girl she never do anything bad to her'

Yesterday two of Hamid's sisters told this newspaper that the saga has taken a toll on the entire family. The sisters said that the woman has never ill-treated the child as has been claimed in some sections of the media by Khan and that she worked hard to provide for her three children. The woman buys and sells clothing and uses a little motorcycle to move around and sell the clothing.

"My sister works hard, and she love that girl she never do anything bad to her. I don't know how dis happen, but it really hard for we family. My mother is sick now because of this and people talking and saying all kinds of things about me sister and it is not true. Me gat a husband and me sister is a single parent and she does give that girl more dan me children get..." one of the sisters said.

The sister, with whom the child was staying before she fled on Saturday night, said that she and her husband attempted to speak to the child but she maintained that she loved Khan and wanted to be with him.

"I don't know what she know about love and we try. You know how much time she try to lock me up in the bedroom and the bathroom to get away. You know he give she cell phone and all kind a thing and I don't know she just turn away from she mother."

They recalled that the child was always well mannered and admired by the villagers especially when she left for school neatly dressed in her uniform. Both Hamid and her sisters said the child performed well in school and was in third form when she came into contact with Hamid.

"He trying to shame me and people saying all kinds of things, but dis in daunt me, I go continue to fight this, because it is my daughter and I am feeling it," Hamid said.

Last Friday Khan had moved to the High Court and filed proceedings seeking to marry the child saying among other things that he wanted to wed the child because "much love and affection has grown between us."

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