Another startling disclosure on children in Guyana was made this week when it was revealed that in a mere two months into 2019, over 400 reports of child abuse cases have been recorded.
This was revealed by Country Representative of the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) Guyana, Sylvie Fouet, who said the statistics are alarming. According to the UNICEF rep, who was speaking at the launching of the Forensic Psychology and Sexual Offences Special Training Series, last year a total of 1000 cases were reported. The link between law and science, she told the gathering, will go a long way in changing the way Guyana responds to and documents child abuse cases as well as sexual violence in general.
A number of cases involving children being sexually assaulted engaged the attention of the courts locally and more were reported after the Sexual Offences Court was established and begun dealing with these cases. During some of the trials, the nation was shocked to learn of the details which emerged of how the victims were sexually and physically abused. In one of the cases, a logger was found guilty on two counts of sexual activity with a child family member by the jury at the High Court. A relative of the victim read out the girl’s statement in court where the child outlined that she lives in discomfort and harbours difficulty relating to males. According to the victim, since the sexual abuse, she often has nightmares and bad dreams with constant flashbacks of the harrowing attacks inflicted upon her. She related that she does not play with friends and spends much time self-harming. She was quoted in the media saying: “I feel messed up about what happened to me”.
Then there was another case in which a man appeared in court for a similar matter. He is currently serving a life sentence after being found guilty last year of raping a male family member, who was seven and eight when he was violated. These are just two of a long list of cases of our children being sexually violated. While life would never be the same again for the victims involved, it is good to see that the perpetrators are facing justice for these despicable and cruel acts. However, this might just be a tip of the iceberg as it is highly believed that many child sexual abuse cases are deliberately hidden and go unreported due to varying reasons.
To reiterate a point that was previously made by this newspaper is the fact that sexual violence against children is considered to be a gross violation of children’s rights. According to UNICEF, sexual violence can take the form of sexual abuse, harassment, rape or sexual exploitation in prostitution or pornography. It can happen in homes, institutions, schools, workplaces, in travel and tourism facilities, within communities. Increasingly, the Internet and mobile phones also put children at risk of sexual violence as some adults look to the Internet to pursue sexual relationships with children. There is also an increase in the number and circulation of images of child abuse.
The United Nations Development Programme had reported that Latin America and the Caribbean is the most violent region in the world for women. In fact, Guyana was named second in top three of 10 countries in the world with the highest rate of rape against women and girls in the English-speaking Caribbean.
Locally, the Childcare and Protection Agency (CCPA) has been on the frontline in bringing some of these cases to light.
The Guyana Police Force is also a key partner in the fight against child sexual violence. The Force must continue to provide the necessary training to its officers to properly investigate sexual crimes against children. Our children need to be assured that when violence against them is reported, the law will act quickly to persecute the perpetrators and that our judicial system will function efficiently and equitably to bring such criminals to justice.
Importantly too is that all the necessary support systems must be put in place to ensure victims and their families are provided with the counselling, etc, to overcome the trauma of sexual violence.
As was stated before that children, irrespective of their ethnic, religious, cultural or social backgrounds, deserve to grow up in an environment where they feel safe.