Child abuse is a big global problem. From reports, one in four children suffer abuse and between 10 per cent and 50 per cent of these are sexually abused. In Guyana, the Childcare and Protection Agency (CCPA) announced that up to last week, the Agency received more than 2200 reports of child abuse, including more than 400 who were sexually abused so far in 2016. This is just the tip of the iceberg since most sexual and child abuse cases go unreported.
Any country that does not see stamping out child abuse as a central component of its development agenda is doomed. Indeed, child abuse is one of the vilest denials of the fundamental and basic rights of children and adolescents. It is a repugnant and a massive problem for every country in the world. Governments anywhere cannot extricate themselves from the responsibility to fight against child abuse and to eliminate it. The commitment of any Government to fight child abuse is testimony to its soul.
I have had a difficult time over the last several weeks not giving voice to something that really rattled and outraged me. The Social Protection Ministry issued a statement which sought to highlight the heinous crime of sexual abuse of our children by describing it as the “deflowering” of our children. I chose to wait and see the response from the Minister and from the President and his Cabinet. I waited to see if anyone of them will have the decency and will take responsibility to withdraw that statement and for them to apologise for such an irresponsible, reckless attitude towards sexual abuse.
No one in Government has stepped forward to rebuke those who made such a blatantly irresponsible statement. The Minister has steadfastly not addressed and corrected the recklessness of the official statement of the Government. I thought that as we observed Child Week last week that it was a good time for the Minister and her colleagues in Government to apologise. But I am still waiting in vain and, therefore, I decided to speak out. While I commend some of the NGOs for immediately raising the problem, it appears that all of them have gone silent again.
This is fighting for our soul as a nation and we must not rest until the Government shows that it will remain strong on fighting child abuse. Viewing sexual abuse of our children as merely “deflowering” shows a nonchalance that is frightening. The fact is incontrovertible – sexual abuse of children is a heinous crime, nothing less. When we got together as a nation under the leadership of President Bharrat Jagdeo and Minister Priya Manikchand, we took a huge step forward as a nation to stamp out child abuse, deeming sexual assaults of our children as nothing less than a heinous crime. Sexual assault of anyone is a crime, but the sexual abuse of our children must be seen as among the most heinous crime anyone can commit.
The statement that rape of our children is just a “deflowering” of our children has unfortunately placed us on a retrogressive path – moving sexual abuse of children from a heinous crime to merely a deflowering of our children. Deflowering is not a crime. Remember that every day we go to the flower shop to buy roses for our loved ones; it is the business of deflowering. It is not a crime. An attempt to describe the crime of sexual abuse to deflowering represents a frightening attitude that moves sexual abuse from the crime of violence and denial of human rights to just an everyday, harmless thing.
The care and the protection of our children must be a non-negotiable tenet of any development programme anywhere in the world. When the People’s Progressive Party Government decided that the Constitution must cater for the human rights of our children by ensuring the establishment of the Rights of the Child Commission and the Childcare and Protection Agency, it placed Guyana on a pathway where our Government reinforced its responsibility to ensure that the welfare of our children is a central and enduring component of the development agenda. The attitude of the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change Government on child abuse has been nothing but frightening. Its reluctance to reject and reprimand those responsible for downgrading the crime of rape of a child from a heinous crime to merely “deflowering” is adding to a history of downplaying the crime of sexual abuse. We must not forget that the Minister and her Government deliberately allowed a person charged with sexual abuse of a child to be a candidate for the People’s National Congress in the Local Government Elections and he is one of their Councillors in the city. The time is long past for the Government and the Minister responsible to apologise and take responsibility to ensure that our attitude towards child abuse is one that is non-compromising.
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