IN the month of September there is a heightened awareness on the issues of children, on education and on their protection, and whilst families are most important to the protection of children there are many other systems and structures that support the prevention of abuse of children.
The Supreme Court of Judicature launched the Sexual Offences Court on November 13, 2017. The overall aim included addressing the backlog of cases of child sexual violence. In Guyana there is an average of 650 reported cases of sexual violence against children. Since the Sexual Offences Court was established, a number of child sexual abuse cases were brought to trial. According to a local newspaper article published on April 14, 2018, after seven months, there has been a notable increase in the number of child sexual abuse cases tried as opposed to previous years and there have also been a noteworthy number of convictions thus far.
The Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) conducted a study: Without Conviction Sexual Violence Cases in The Guyana Justice Process. The study found that from 2000-2004 the average conviction rate of sexual abuse cases was 1.4 per cent. That is nine convictions out of 647 reports of sexual abuse. ChildLinK through the Child Advocacy Centre (CAC) provides court support to child sexual abuse victims who have cases of sexual violence before the court. Court support services provide pre and post-trial support to a victim. ChildLinK supported 16 clients from November 2017 to present. Of the 16 cases we supported, there were 14 convictions, one not guilty verdict and one ongoing case.
Chancellor of the Judiciary (a.g.) Justice Yonnette Cummings-Edwards and all stakeholders involved in the establishment and operationalisation of the Sexual Offences Court, deserve commendation for their successful efforts to improve the efficiency of the judicial system and afford victims of sexual violence the opportunity to have their cases tried. ChildLinK believes that the Sexual Offences Court sends a strong message to children and to the wider society, that justice served may directly influence an increase in the reporting of child sexual abuse and in the longer term, improves the protection of children from sexual abuse. In a newspaper article, Justice Cummings-Edwards stated that the specialist court was properly staffed and would see the rotation of criminal judges. The chancellor also noted that the courtroom was properly equipped and includes a victim support unit giving victims the opportunity to testify in a free environment and not subjecting them to victimisation or discrimination. The Sexual Offences Court allows child sexual abuse cases to be treated with sensitivity and child victims are emotionally supported to provide their sworn testimonies. Although the lives of the victims have changed forever, the fact that the perpetrators are held accountable for their heinous crime may give the victims and their families some solace.
A ChildLinK Court Support Officer stated, “This system serves justice and brings closure to the victims and the families”. One child victim related in her impact statement, “Now that the case is over, I feel a weight has been lifted off of my back. I deserve my innocence. At first I thought that I was the only child that experienced such a horrible thing but learnt that I am not, and that gave me the courage to speak out”.
Sexual violence against children is a gross violation of children’s rights. Establishing a system where a perpetrator is prosecuted and victims are provided with a strong support system throughout the trial, plays a major role in the battle against sexual offences. This hopefully will encourage persons to report any known case of child sexual abuse and deter perpetrators from abusing children. We all have a role to play in protecting children from sexual violence and any other form of violence.