Child Rights Alliance deeply concerned about safety of children

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Dear Editor,

THE Child Rights Alliance (CRA) is deeply concerned about the safety and wellbeing of children in communities across Guyana.

The alleged abduction, sexual assault and murder of 13-year-old Leonard Archibald of Brother’s Village, East Bank Berbice has brought to light so much that is wrong in society. This tragedy could have been avoided if individuals in the community or law enforcement officials familiar with the atrocious crimes of the confessed offender acted with urgency. Instead, a community was plunged into mourning; a nation is left dumbfounded as Guyanese continue to sing a familiar, but melancholy tune: “if only.”

How can a man who allegedly tied a then12-year-old boy to a tree and sexually assaulted him; broke into the home of a 15-year-old boy in a failed attempt to rape him; failed in an attempt to abduct an 18-year-old boy in a boat; attacked a 19-year-old man in a failed attempt to rape him; failed in an attempt to rape a then 35-year-old man; and sexually molested a seven year-old boy, all from the same village, be allowed to roam the streets as a free man? If only…

Guyana has a culture of silence and secrecy to crimes of child abuse, particularly sexual violence against children. Offenders know this and are emboldened by this fact. In 2016, there were 4,015 reported cases of child abuse, 18% or 734 were cases of child sexual abuse. The truth is, for every reported case of abuse there are two or more cases that go unreported. This means those offenders go unreported as well.

Several members of the CRA have been conducting sensitisation sessions with children in Regions Three, Four and Five between January and July 2017. The CRA members have sensitised almost 2,000 children on child abuse and the importance of reporting cases of abuse. Several children approached a CRA counselor and reported that they were sexually abused. In some of these cases, the matters were never reported to the Childcare and Protection Agency (CPA) prior to coming to the attention of the CRA. In a few cases the abuse was known by family members in the home. In one case, the child was being sexually abused by the stepfather. The biological mother and maternal grandmother knew about the abuse. The mother and grandmother threatened to poison the child if she ever told anyone.

Covering up child sexual abuse cases is far more common than most people realise. ChildLinK’s 2016 report on children living in institutional care revealed that there is a “…a general culture of silence with respect to child abuse…” (Bess-Bascom, 2016). Additionally, the report revealed that there were “…partners…who hide and ‘cover’ for perpetrators… and felt a responsibility to protect the perpetrator…” (Bess-Bascom, 2016). While no one on the East Bank Berbice was trying to protect the confessed offender, those who suffered at his hands, for the most part, chose to remain silent. The slain child’s father was reported as saying ‘No one thought it would get this serious and now I’m seeing the community come out and put their foot down on it.’ The father reportedly believed that if someone had reported what was known by the community in the past then his son would still be alive. And that is the problem we face today: If only someone had done something. Unfortunately, no one thinks about doing anything until after the fact.

Fear of the stigma attached to being a victim of sexual assault is the reason several young men gave for not speaking out. This is true for both males and females. Many cases of child sexual abuse go unreported because of this fear. Whenever children are sexually abused, one of the most common feelings that the child may experience is shame. They fear that they will be judged and seen in a negative light by others. While this should not be a reason to keep a matter of child sexual abuse a secret there is no denying that some of the fears survivors of sexual abuse have are valid. This is where the average citizen desperately needs a paradigm shift. As a society we need to learn empathy and to respect the privacy of others. We are too quick to judge. The young men of Brother’s Village know this all too well and chose to keep the abuse a secret that should have been reported to the authorities. If only…

Several persons mentioned to the media that reports were made to the police in the past but not much was done about the matter. One publication stated that the confessed offender was arrested in the past but the case against him was dropped because he promised to replace his intended victim’s cell phone. If only… The young man who was reportedly hit with a piece of wood, tied to a tree and sexually assaulted when he was 12- years-old stated that the matter was taken to the police but his parents chose to settle and “take the money and drink it out”. If only…

It is not uncommon for parents of children who were abused to accept money. This however, emboldens offenders because they know that they can elude justice by giving some monies. While there has been some progress in the conviction of cases of sexual violence there is still a long way to go. There are too many cases that never make it to court for a number of reasons and there are families of abused children that are still taking money. At the end of the day, it is the child that suffers in the abuse, in the lack of justice and support from families. They are the ones who suffer in silence. If only…

One publication reported a resident of the village saying that the confessed perpetrator would usually go into hiding after sexually abusing a child but would return a few weeks by which time, the police would “forget about the incident”. This is a very troubling development if it is indeed the case. In how many communities across our ten Administrative Regions are offenders of child sexual abuse allowed to get away for a few weeks and return with no fear of prosecution? How many children are still battling with the trauma of sexual abuse as our justice system treats their case with apathy? How many cases in Brother’s village have the police forgotten about over the years?

Guyana is a signatory of the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and the UNCRC was incorporated into our Constitution. According to Article 34 of the UNCRC, “States Parties (should) undertake to protect the child from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse.” The systems put in place to prevent this tragedy and protect young boys such as Leonard Archibald miserably failed him. Article 6 states: “States Parties recognise that every child has the inherent right to life. States Parties shall ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child.” Young Leonard had the right to life. He should have been protected: by the adults in his family, by the State and its agencies, by the community and by society as a whole. ‘If only’ is not good enough for our children. It is your duty as a citizen to report any known case of child abuse. The abuse of children is a scourge in our society that will continue to prevail as long as citizens fail to act.
Regards
Hasani Tinnie
Communications Officer
Child Rights Alliance