Preventing Lolita Land
January 27, 2007
ONE of the more eye-catching stories to hit the local press in recent times was the marriage between a 13-year old schoolgirl and a 23-year old man in Essequibo.
According to reports on the case, the marriage went ahead despite the objections by the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security, and apparently with the complicity of both the child's parents and the minister of religion who performed the ceremony.
Reports also said that the Permanent Secretary in the ministry, Mr. Trevor Thomas, has stated that the case will be taken seriously as "the law does not allow a child to get married."
There is a seemingly tangential, but rather strong, reason for ensuring that those who act in contravention of the law face the strongest penalties accorded when it comes to sexual relations between under-aged children and adults.
With some key initiatives and events projected to boost Guyana's visibility as a tourism destination – most notably the casino gambling act and the hosting of ICC Cricket World Cup – it would not do well to send a message to the world that the protection of our children from sexual predation is shaky at best.
It is common, if undocumented knowledge, that many Lolita type relationships exist in Guyana – particularly in the hinterland areas where law enforcement is either weak, or as in the case with the recent marriage of the 13-year old girl, held as secondary to local custom.
The danger here is that Guyana is focusing heavily on promoting eco-tourism, something that will inevitably bring potentially hundreds, maybe thousands eventually, of foreign visitors in contact with these very same communities on an annual basis.
Countries like Cambodia are coming under increasing media attention for their continued ambivalence towards the multi-million dollar child prostitution 'industry', and subsequent international pressure to make sure that the sickening trade ends.
A recent story on CNN – published on both the network's television news magazine and in a text article available online – shows how the work of one former child prostitute, Somaly Mam, has been bringing international attention to the industry she has so far rescued 53 children from.
With the United States and other countries monitoring their citizens who travel to traditional child sex tourism havens, the average touring paedophile will be locating for now places to slake his lust for young children.
Child sex tourism industries have grown up in places like Cambodia, largely because of environmental factors which exist in Guyana today.
These factors are mainly: an amazingly beautiful natural landscape which, once discovered, leads towards the influx of tourists or even temporary residents; a cultural ambivalence towards sexual activity between children and adults, as exists in many areas here; weak or easily compromised law enforcement; and economic under-development, particularly in rural communities.
The authorities here must foresee and prevent the development of a "Lolita Land" in Guyana at all costs.