This newspaper has published articles about rape victims being harassed by accused or accused’s families on several occasions after relatives have sought in vain help from the Guyana Police Force and in other cases child protection agencies.
Again, today we are publishing another article of a Berbice grandmother seeking the help of Police to protect her granddaughter. Most disturbingly, she is not getting the necessary assistance. In this most recent case, a Corentyne, Region Six mechanic, who has been charged for raping the then 13-year-old girl, who is now 15 years old, is tormenting her with threats. One can only imagine the trauma her and her family are going through to avoid the accused on a daily basis.
Even more disturbing is the fact that the grandmother has accused Police Officers of probing her to “settle” the matter with the accused by painting a daunting picture of the legal process.
These actions of the officers contravene the new Sexual Offences Act, which has provisions to minimise the additional trauma that victims experience while seeking justice through the legal system.
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.
A UNICEF study, “Hidden in Plain Sight”, estimates that worldwide, around 120 million girls under the age of 20 (about 1 in 10) have been subjected to forced sexual intercourse or other forced sexual acts at some point of their lives. Boys also report experiences of sexual violence, but they do so to a lesser extent than girls.
Evidence shows 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 increased risks for illness, unwanted pregnancy, psychological distress, stigma, discrimination and difficulties at school.
In Guyana, the Child Care and Protection Agency (CCPA) has been on the frontline in bringing some of these cases to light. The agency must continue to work diligently in ensuring that all such cases are brought to the fore where they could be properly investigated and prosecuted.
Stakeholders must seek to obtain empirical data about the incidence of these crimes against children, especially in the geographical areas in which they are known to occur and put systems in place to prosecute offenders to the fullest extent of the law.
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.
Children, irrespective of religious, cultural or social backgrounds, deserve to grow up in an environment where they feel safe and are part of loving and nurturing families.
Many incidents of rape sometimes are not ever reported because confidence in the security forces has been severely compromised because of occurrences exemplified in the foregoing narrative.
The Police Force must take its mandate seriously and must not appear to be complicit in such occurrences. The public must have enough confidence to trust the Joint Services and report more instances of rape.