Hearts of stone
Kaieteur News
July 28, 2004

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EVEN those with hearts of granite should have been deeply disturbed by the statistics of cases of child abuse that are before the courts in Guyana and which were reported in the Kaieteur News Sunday Special of July 25, 2004.

The destruction of the innocence of Guyanaís children through various forms of child abuse is a scandal we simply cannot accept. It seems unbearable to repeat the scandalous number of cases before the court for the year. Simply put, they are astronomical for a small society like Guyana. While we view these figures with the gravest concern, we know only too well that they tell only a small part of the whole story.

Since these figures represent reported cases before the court, then there must be many other cases that are not reported. Perhaps the majority, go unreported because victims are too terrified or traumatised to complain. The cases before the court do not include cases of emotional abuse, neglect or abandonment of children. At this time of our nationís history, several well-publicised cases of child abuse have thrust this social problem onto the front burner of the nationís awareness.

The time is ripe for all concerned organisations and citizens to seize the moment and make a powerful stand against such thoroughly despicable crimes.

There is unimaginable suffering behind child abuse statistics. Figures alone cannot fully convey the gut wrenching pain of individual children whose lives have been poisoned by the agonising physical and emotional toll of abuse.

Behavioural scientists tell us that such abuse has long-term psychological effects on victims. If the incidence of child abuse in any given nation is particularly high, there will be many social problems. Victims will have serious difficulties fitting into society as adults. They tend to be especially susceptible to vice and violence, often becoming abusers themselves in a vicious circle of pain. What makes child abuse in Guyana more shameful is the fact that Guyana is a signatory of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. That Convention sets out the basic rights of the child and specifies minimum standards that participating governments must meet to guarantee these rights to children in their countries.

Unfortunately, despite valiant efforts by government and various NGOís, Guyana still appears to be well short of the standards set out by the UN charter. These are based on reviewing and changing laws; assessing and upgrading social services, legal, health and education systems as well as accessing funding for these services.

The UN Convention states that this should be done to the maximum extent of a countryís available resources, and, if necessary, within the framework of international cooperation. However, the Convention makes it clear that such changes must not be imposed from outside, but must arise from local activities and processes. It is quite certain that Guyana is woefully deficient in these local activities and processes.

The government, through the ministry responsible for social services should initiate these activities and processes, but cannot get the job done alone. What is necessary is a concerted, nation-wide effort with expanded activities and maximum community participation. It is vitally important to stamp out child abuse by promoting better understanding of childrenís rights and needs. Some dangerous beliefs must be eliminated. One is the belief that the media should not thrust child abuse in the publicís eye.

There are those who prefer to cloak the nationís dirty linen in a veil of secrecy. Not so. We need to expose this evil in frank, forthright terms while protecting the victimsí identities. We need to banish silence, denial and stigma. We need full awareness of the problem and the nationís full commitment to its removal. Another errant view is that there are other compelling issues demanding our attention and resources. But child abuse is a particularly shameful vice, which deeply undermines our societyís moral and spiritual well-being.

A particularly perverse viewpoint is that there will always be child abuse no matter what we do, so we should treat it as a necessary evil. But the only acceptable rate of child abuse is zero; we must keep on fighting child abuse until it is completely eliminated.

Otherwise, it is not only child-abusers, but we as a society, by our failure to stop such abuse, who should be accused of having hearts of stone.