Despite the presence of a modern law protecting children and women from sexual abuse, there are still many of these cases occurring in society.
Only on Tuesday, Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Shalimar Ali-Hack, at the opening of the Criminal Session of the Demerara Assizes, revealed that of the total of 354 criminal cases at this sitting, 174 are for sexual offences.
Greater awareness and education campaigns have led to sexual abuse being widely discussed in society. Even among children, the subject is now being discussed or taught in a decent manner, primarily because they are victims of sexual abuse.
Child sexual abuse especially raises anger and revulsion in society. Because of the frequency with which child sexual abuse is occurring, children are in dire needed of protection, especially since it is difficult to distinguish a paedophile in our midst. The frightening side to this is that, in many instances, the perpetrator turns out to be someone familiar.
Although people agree that violating children is revolting, there are no systems in Guyana that exposes paedophiles. Since 2017, there have been numerous debates about the establishment of a Sex Offenders Registry. While there has been general agreement and support for such a registry, it is still to be materialised, as numerous hiccups have stymied the process. In failing to have such a registry, not only is the public unaware of who among them are predators, but children are placed at greater risk.
As it stands at the moment, paedophiles can commit their acts, go to prison, get released, and simply rejoin the community as if their offences were frivolous matters.
No alert is given to the public that a paedophile is about to be released from prison, and that he poses a risk to children. Importantly, the nature of paedophiles needs to be understood. Most of them are recidivists, which is why they are kept under close watch even after serving time in prison in many countries around the world.
The authorities must have a system for dealing with paedophiles. What would help significantly is the creation of a national database on paedophiles, detailing every aspect of information about them, and alerting communities to where they are located. In advanced societies, such a database exists for the purposes of warning both parents and children, and protecting the latter. Those societies treat paedophilia seriously, and their authorities can get into trouble for not alerting communities that a paedophile lives in their midst. This is how Guyana should approach paedophilia. As in other societies, paedophilia is a crime that sticks on a person for life, and by right, societies need to be told and warned of them. We need a more serious approach to curbing paedophilia and dealing with paedophiles.
On Tuesday also, Education Minister Priya Manickchand alerted education officers that sexual offences at schools will not be tolerated.
To quote the Minister: “Education Officers have been alerted to the fact that there is no space for tolerance, whether deliberate or inadvertent, for sex offences in schools or of school children. Any education officer who receives a complaint of such nature must immediately report same to the Deputy Chief Education Officer (admin). Failure to make said report will result in condign action. Teachers and school staff should also take note.”
We support the Education Minister in her tough stance against sexual offences while at the same time calling for the establishment of a national database on sex offenders, and more so paedophiles, for the sake of protecting children.