The Businessman and the 13-year-old
Khan and child fail to show at court hearing - 'We just want she to come back home' says Grandma
Stabroek News
June 5, 2004

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These persons were among those who turned up at the High Court yesterday bearing placards and soliciting signatures for a petition that seeks to have the age of consent in Guyana raised from 13 years to 16 years. (Jules Gibson photo)

City businessman, Reeaz Khan, his lawyers and the 13-year-old girl with whom he has been involved in a sexual relationship, yesterday failed to appear in court for habeas corpus proceedings and there are now growing concerns for the welfare of the child since she has not been seen since May 20.

Had Khan shown up, he would have had to run a gauntlet of protestors who held a silent vigil outside the courts to express their disgust over the businessman's behaviour. They plan to continue their picket on Monday at 10.30 am when the proceedings are expected to resume.

The child's grandmother was also present and begged for the child to be returned home. "I hope fuh dah best, we very poor. I just want tell she to come back to us, we love she and we need she. We just want she to come back home, we miss she so much."

What Justice Roy said
The court convened several minutes past the scheduled starting time of 11:30 am but at no time before, during or after the proceedings was Khan present.

Justice BS Roy informed the persons in the courtroom that he had spoken directly with the Commander of the 'A' division of the Guyana Police Force, Paul Slowe, and had come to the decision that certain aspects of the case must be dealt with in camera (in chambers).

The judge summoned Slowe and other police ranks, personnel from the Probation and Family Welfare Depart-ment of the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security, that ministry's legal representative from the Attor-ney General's Chambers, representatives of the various interest groups, and Hamid and her legal representatives to share their concerns with him in chambers. This move precluded any coverage by the media of their discussions.

Several persons voiced dissatisfaction when the judge indicated that for Khan to be cited for contempt for allegedly flouting the court's order, as has been reported in sections of the media, the court must be presented with an application relevant to the alleged breach/es.

Senior Counsel Robin Stoby, appearing on Hamid's behalf in the absence of her lawyer [who is currently out of the jurisdiction], said he is concerned that some level of disregard for the court's authority has apparently taken place. But the judge maintained that any breach of the court's order must be "lawyer-driven not court-driven", therefore the corresponding legal procedure must be applied if the court is to function in response to any such incidence.

Justice Roy emphasised that the matter before the court is "not criminal" rather, "What is before this court is an application for a writ of habeas corpus filed by the child's mother," the judge said. He later added: "There is no [application in relation to the alleged breach of the court order] before this court at this time."

However, Stabroek News has been reliably informed that Hamid's legal representatives will initiate the necessary contempt of court proceedings seeking to have Khan cited for allegedly breaching the High Court order handed down by Justice Roy on May 20. This directed Khan to refrain from having any form of contact with the 13-year-old.

In another development, an affidavit from Human Ser-vices Minister, Bibi Shadick, in response to Hamid's affidavit has been filed and served on her attorneys with the probation report requested by the court attached.

The judge has also charged the media to ensure that its coverage of the incident is "accurate, fair and responsible" noting that the welfare of the child must remain the main issue of focus at all times. Justice Roy said the court's concern at this stage is to ensure that it acts in the child's best interests and as such everything is being done within the power of the court to guarantee that the child's welfare is adequately sustained. He warned that should the media fail to adhere to this caution, he might be forced to order a restriction of its coverage of the case. The matter has been adjourned to June 7.

Concern for child's welfare grows
Where the 13-year-old girl might be is the most pressing question on the minds of many who have been following the saga. She fled from her aunt's home last Saturday night into a vehicle that relatives say was connected to Khan. Khan, who has declined to speak to Stabroek News, has since claimed to be unaware of the teenager's whereabouts.

In her affidavit in support of the habeas corpus proceedings, the 13-year-old's mother, Bibi Shameeza Hamid, claims that Khan abducted the child, had sex with her and did not want her to return home.

Khan has since filed a petition in an attempt to obtain legal authority to marry the child but Stabroek News has been reliably informed that corresponding documents are yet to be served on Hamid or her attorney. Khan has not denied indulging in sexual relations with the child.

When the child failed to appear in court yesterday, several persons expressed a sense of uneasiness and voiced the hope that law enforcement officials would do everything in their power to find her.

The last time the child turned up in the High Court had been on May 20 in the company of Khan.

GHRA: Court has failed to protect child
Contacted for a comment yesterday Co-President of the GHRA, Mike McCormack told Stabroek News that several very "odd" things arose out of yesterday's court proceedings. The first one was the lack of protection for the child since she was not produced in court yesterday.

Secondly, McCormack pointed out that habeas corpus proceedings are usually public hearings and he could not understand why yesterday's was held in chambers. He noted that the matter is of public interest, which is very intense, and that it is strange that the public was not allowed to know what went on. He is of the opinion that since the child's mother does not know where the child was and Khan says he does not have her then the judge should have attempted to find out where the child was as her protection is of paramount importance.

Asked about the absence of Khan and his lawyers, he said that it reflects that people with wealth and power feel very comfortable with the courts. He added that the child is from a poor background and the duty of the court is to protect that child. According to him the court has failed in many ways in the protection of the child.

The silent protest
The large gathering of women and a considerable number of men from various rights groups carried placards with slogans condemning Khan's sexual exploits. Some of the messages written on the placards were:

"Protect our children, establish family court"; "Warning: Children in danger in Guyana" and "Stop the rich and powerful from destroying our children".

Among the groups there were the Women's Progressive Organisation [the women's arm of the ruling PPP], the Guyana Indian Heritage Association (GIHA), Red Thread, Help and Shelter, the Guyana Association of Professional Social Workers, Women Across Differences, Women Against Violence Everywhere, the Indian Arrival Committee, Guybernet, the Amerindian Action Movement of Guyana, the Guyana Human Rights Association, the Guyanese Organisation of Indigenous Peoples, the National Amerindian Development Foundation, and the PNCR.

The women's groups yesterday issued a call for persons to assemble in front of the High Court to continue the silent picket/protest at 10:30 am next Monday.

According to one representative, the signature campaign to have the age of consent raised to sixteen went well and hundreds of persons continue to sign the online petition in support of Hamid in her quest to have her child returned.

The signatures supporting the raising of the age of consent will be sent to parliament so that the parliamentarians would see that many persons are supporting the change in the law. The organisers feel that the MPs only react when people react.

What the protestors said
Stabroek News spoke with some of the persons who participated in the protest action.

Pastor Kwame Gilbert, New Testament Church of God (World Vision)

"The presence of the church has not been seen or felt sufficiently on certain issues of national interest. Too many of these issues have been decided upon by the government without the proper involvement of or consultation with the religious community. I believe that it is indecent and immoral for a 13-year-old to be involved in this or any similar situation. Some persons believe that the church is silent on this and other similar crucial issues of national and moral interest but that is not true. I'm here because of my moral commitment as a citizen of Guyana and in the capacity of a representative of the Christian community."

Pandit Khrishna Persaud, Guyana Maha Sabha
"I'm here because I support this protest in principle. There are two principles at work here, one is legal and that governs our relationship with one another and the other is moral, and that has to do with the sacred things that we believe in. This is a case of a clash between these two principles, but one must take precedence over the other... The law as it stands presently does not represent the will of the people."

Representative of Help and Shelter
"I agree that the age of consent ought to be 18 years as was reported in the media to have been pointed out by the UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund) executive recently. The legislation that allows a girl of 13 years to consent to sexual relations needs to be altered urgently."

Representative of Men of Purpose
"Too many young women, unfortunately, are persuaded into getting involved in morally inappropriate relationships with older men who use their experience to take advantage of them. Mechanisms need to be put in place to assist young women who are vulnerable under such circumstances to steer clear of such men."

Halima Khan, concerned citizen and rights activist
"I am very disturbed about this situation. Are we to understand that because a person has money, he or she can do anything they like? This is ridiculous because the child is still a minor and she needs to learn so much more about life. Would Reeaz Khan have liked his 13-year-old daughter to be preyed upon by someone old enough to be her father? He's wrong and he has to be punished."

Doreen Foo, Diabetic Association
"It is a serious thing… I am very proud of this woman to make it public. She has the faith and may God give her the strength to continue and don't give up. I am very proud to be out here today."

Another woman, who said she was representing all children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren said: "If he gets away with this, others will do it, and he shouldn't be doing it. We are here to represent the children and he feels he can get away, we want justice.'

Another woman said it was the responsibility of people in society to protect the nation's children and as such the country's antiquated law should be reviewed.

"I mean to have sex with a 13-year-old, that is disgusting..."

A 16-year-old, dressed in her school uniform, said she believes that the rights of the child should be protected and her show of support would speed up the process of the age of sexual consent being raised.