Panel discussion hears…
Violence against children compromised Guyana Chronicle
November 21, 2006

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VIOLENCE against children in Guyana was highlighted yesterday at a panel discussion for the launch of a global study on the issue directed by the United Nations Secretary General.

A UN expert, First Lady Varshnie Jagdeo and a Government Minister were among those who spoke at the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) hosted forum of interactive dialogue at Le Meridien Pegasus Hotel in Georgetown.

Theme for the occasion was ‘No violence against children is justifiable; all violence against children is preventable.’

Officials said this is the first time a single document provides a comprehensive world view of the range and scale of violence against children.

The study is the result of a survey commissioned in 2001 by the UN General Assembly and led by independent expert, Mr Paulo Sergio Pinneiro, in collaboration with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNICEF.

Children and young people were fully involved in the exercise from the beginning and participated in national and regional consultations and the process recognised that much violence against children remains hidden and is often socially approved.

The procedure combined human rights, public health and child protection perspectives and focused on five sets of circumstances in which violence occurs - the home and family, school and educational settings, institutions (care and judicial), the workplace and the community, the gathering was told by one of the speakers, UNICEF Representative, Mr. Johannes Wedenig.

He said violence against children includes the physical and psychological, discrimination, neglect and maltreatment and ranges from sexual abuse in the home to corporal and humiliating punishment at school. Wedenig said recommendations were made at the national level to establish a children’s ombudsman on children’s rights and for prioritising prevention of violence against children by addressing underlying causes and development of a national strategy, policy and plan of action, with realistic, time bound targets for integration into national planning processes.

He declared that, over the last few years, the situation in Guyana has been severely compromised by several major problems that stem from many factors, including poverty, community tensions and disintegration of the social fabric which have impeded progress to the full realisation of the children’s rights enshrined in the UN Convention.

Wedenig observed, too, that many children in Guyana are in remote areas which are difficult to reach.

He said the surveyors have seen children who suffered as a result of crime and violence as both perpetrators and victims.

“Who, here, will ever forget that image that appeared in our newspapers in early June of a severely malnourished and neglected child who was left tied up in a house and who, fortunately, the Police found?” Wedenig asked.

He mentioned the frequent reports of rape and incest committed on children by perpetrators who are known to them and noted that, sadly, there have been instances where children are involved in criminal activities such as the three teenagers who were charged with the killing of a female taxi driver earlier this year and, more recently, teenagers’ involvement in murderous criminal activities.

Wedenig said those cases all exemplify the extremes to which violence can reach in this country.

“What is so frightening is that what we are seeing and hearing may only be the tip of the iceberg as there is a large degree of under-reporting of various forms of violence, including sexual abuse,” he pointed out.

First Lady, Mrs Jagdeo, who chairs the National Commission on the Rights of the Child (NCRC) said children suffer from mental abuse, as well, and, between ages three and five, life is very important, because they soak up all in their environment.

She appealed to parents to desist from exposing children to violence in the home and to, instead, mould them into well-rounded, educated citizens so badly needed in the country.

Mrs. Jagdeo said violence against children is very disturbing in society and called for action on banning corporal punishment in schools and enforcement of children’s rights.

Minister of Human Services and Social Security, Ms. Priya Manickhand said the Government of Guyana is committed to the welfare and needs of children who are abused and to curb violence against them.

She assured that policies will be enforced, through several ministries, but pledged to act vigorously on safeguarding the rights of children.

Manickchand said the world report does not specify countries and Guyana is not as badly off as other countries, but she acknowledged that several issues need to be addressed, such as violence in the care and judicial system where 563 children are being housed.

“We are not dealing adequately with children’s needs, because they are often abused and we need to legislate so vulnerable children can be protected,” she admitted.

Alluding to corporal punishment in schools where the headteacher is the only person allowed to discipline, she referred to a reported case in which one forced a child to kneel for a period.

Minister Manickchand said discipline is not beating children in schools and “we must ensure children are treated fairly.”