Worthy objectives of Taskforce on Children’s Affairs
Guyana Chronicle
July 1, 2004

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LAST week’s announcement that President Bharrat Jagdeo has established a Taskforce on Children’s Affairs was not only one of the most positive developments in the area of children’s welfare in recent months, but also a welcome ray of hope at a critical moment of the condition of the next generation. Not surprisingly, one of the objectives of the Taskforce on Children’s Affairs is to hold consultations on the age of sexual consent particularly as it affects girl children. In the words of Ms Bibi Shadick, Minister responsible for Human Services and Social Security, President Jagdeo voiced his concern about the general increase of child abuse. And the consensus of the various representatives meeting with the Head of State last week was that a taskforce should be established to coordinate a national effort to fight this problem. Within the coming weeks, consultations on these issues will be held across the country, after which, President Jagdeo is likely to select an implementation committee.

As we have noted in this column early last month, the nation seems to be going through a season that is characterised daily by reports of young children being sexually violated or physically brutalised. Just around the time when the world was observing International Day of Children, there came a welter of reports of child fatalities and child victims of sexual and physical violations. There were two incidents of infants being killed reportedly at the hands of parents simply because the babies would not stop crying! And while some instances of sexual violation or physical and psychological abuse of children have their roots in gnawing hunger and desperate poverty, these behaviours are manifest in all classes of people and even among the well-to-do citizens in affluent societies. There are documented instances of parents in some cultures exchanging their young children for cash even though they know all too well that their children will be forced into servitude or sexual slavery.

But our nation’s concern at this time is the welfare of those young children, who are routinely molested by adult biological relatives, friends of the family or by neighbourhood pedophiles. Research into the lives of local street children reveals startling stories of cruelty and gives social workers an insight into why children as young as pre-teens prefer to deal with the terrors of life on the streets rather than to be victims of violence and mal-treatment at what passes for home. We know that in Guyana, thousands of infants and youngsters live in homes where they are fed and nurtured in an atmosphere of caring and love. They are sent to school, and are encouraged to read, write, draw, play, sing, dance and recite poems. They are given all their vaccines at the appropriate times, their growth is carefully monitored, and their general well-being is given first priority by their parents, many of whom because of economic circumstances elect to put their own lives and career goals on hold so that their children could develop into well-rounded adults.

On the other hand, there are hundreds of other children, who are victims of poverty and, as a result, they are ill-fed, ill-housed and illiterate. They are neglected physically along with being emotionally starved. Some are in the care of parents, who are dependent on illegal substances. As a result, their offspring are robbed of their childhood and denied the care, love and formal learning that are their due. Yet, in spite of all these negatives, some youngsters have the inner core of strength to seek help through various social and church agencies, and in the end, are able to rise above their circumstances to become thoughtful and contributing members of society. Others grow into adulthood and are trapped to the cycle of inflicting the same levels of cruelty and neglect on their own children.

Let us all hope that this Taskforce on Children’s Affairs will be effective in reaching and assisting all those parents, guardians and children, who through no fault of their own are trapped in dysfunctional home environments. With sensitive and appropriate guidance, countless lives could be saved and enriched.