Proactively protecting our children

Over the past week, Guyana Times has been writing on aspects of a recently complied report by ChildLink (Guyana) which highlights a worrying trend about the level of child abuse in Guyana. ChildLink Guyana is a non-governmental organisation (NGO) which works towards the protection of children against abuse and exploitation.
As if the act of sexually abusing a child is not heinous enough, the report points to cases where several of these children have contracted sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) during the atrocious acts.
According to its most recent study, the NGO has found that a number of children became pregnant while others contracted HIV, gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, or other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Others, according to the report, suffered from ruptured uteruses.
UNICEF Regional Child Protection Adviser for Latin America and the Caribbean, Nadine Perrault, in speaking about the issue in the region said, “sexual abuse happens everywhere – at home, school, and in other institutions; and has a serious physical, psychological and social impact… it is one of the main factors that contribute to HIV infection, and that is why it is not surprising that this region (Caribbean) has one of the highest prevalence of HIV and AIDS worldwide.”
Numerous studies have shown that sexual violence can have serious short- and long-term physical, psychological and social consequences not only for girls or boys, but also for their families and communities. This includes psychological distress, stigma, discrimination and difficulties at school. Other consequences include an increased likelihood of future substance abuse, aggressive behaviours, high-risk health behaviours, criminal activity, depressive and affective disorders, personality disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, panic attacks, schizophrenia and abuse of their own children and spouses. The vicious cycle seems never-ending.
Over the past year, as this newspaper has highlighted on several occasions, if one were to look at the pattern of sentencing by the court when the perpetrators are found guilty after a lengthy trial, one would recognise that the courts have handed down sentences that are meant to serve as a deterrent and a strong signal to our society – that such acts of gross indecency which violate the very moral fabric of society and endanger our children – would not be tolerated or allowed to go unpunished. Therefore, the Judiciary should be congratulated, and more resources should flow in its direction to ensure that the Court’s capacity is boosted to tackle all issues related to sexual offences committed particularly against minors. But the real issue of help for our children does not lie with the Judiciary but rather with our families, policies, programmes and agencies that are meant to protect our children. Clearly, the authorities, advocates and policymakers need to re-examine the approach to the issues. Effective prevention strategies should focus on modifying policies, practices, and societal norms to create safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments. Again, it would be beneficial to examine what has been done elsewhere. 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.
The Social Protection Ministry through its Child Care Protection Agency (CCPA), the Guyana Police Force, religious organisations, NGOs, families and communities are also key partners in the fight against child sexual violence. The CCPA and the Guyana Police Force (GPF) must 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.
While Guyana Times on several occasions has commended the CCPA and the GPF for its work in these matters, these interventions are coming a little too late. Both entities, as previously stated, are still operating in reactive mode, and is too bogged down to embark on a robust campaign featuring the implementation of measures that could see many of these acts being prevented before it’s too late.
There is desperate need, therefore, for the Government of Guyana to redouble its efforts to respond to this assault and violation of the decency and human rights of our children. Again, the call is being reiterated for a unit to be immediately established to tackle child abuse in all of its forms, as this can aid the work being done by CCPA. We cannot continue to be complacent with the lives of our children.