Businesses within the extractive sector of Guyana were on Monday urged to ensure firm compliance with the laws regarding the protection of the rights of children.At a stakeholder event at the Cara Lodge in the city, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) organised forum saw deliberators reinforcing the requirements of businesses within the sector to uphold the rights of children. Minister of Business, Dominic Gaskin was candid in his appeal to the players in the sector, a fundamentally private enterprise environment. “What we are
concerned with today , is whether the activities carried out in pursuit of private interests are in keeping with the expectations of the society that regards as important the rights of our children”, Gaskin noted.
Speaking to an audience which included Minister within the Ministry of Indigenous Affairs, Valerie Garrido-Lowe, United States Ambassador to Guyana, Perry Holloway and representatives of organizations relative to the mining sector, Gaskin questioned the position of the local society as regards the rights of children. “But are we such a society? Are we quietly allowing or tolerating or simply ignoring activities that are a gross violation of all that underscores children rights in 21st century?” he asked.
He questioned whether the private enterprises were given a “free pass at the extent of our most precious asset”, that being children. Gaskin said that the industries within the extractive sector were significant contributors to the economy. As the private sector expands in size and influence, he said that it would inevitably have an impact on the lives of children. This impact, he said, should be positive, one which brings investment, enjoyment, opportunities and new services to communities. “This is what we wish to promote at the Ministry of Business”, Gaskin said.
He noted however, that there was a darker side to certain businesses which could not be ignored nor promoted. According to Gaskin, the appeal “Guyana means business” is envisaged as lawful and wholesome business which can make a valuable contribution to the economic growth and development of the country.
He urged that the gold, bauxite, timber and quarry industries, among others, provide meaningful contributions towards resolving the problems affecting children. “Business must take individual responsibilities for their impact on children’s rights”, he said.
Gaskin pointed to an informal and formal economy, noting that the former outweighed the other. However, many ills occur in that sector, including the loss of taxes, exploitation of workers as well as a disregard for regulations. “This is what we are seeking to reverse”, he said. While the formal economy may not have a clean slate, he expressed belief that the “most troubling and challenging violations resulting from business activities, reside within the informal economy.”
He explained that the businesses which operate on formal groundings can generally be targeted through legislative measures should they commit errors. These measures can ensure that they change practices which are harmful to children. However, the informal businesses cannot be influenced by legislation and these require special measures to bring them into compliance.
In Guyana, Gaskin said that there existed geographical lines and when crossed, persons might disregard the laws and “travel back in time to Wild West practices.”
He posited that all of the businesses in the extractive sector may be located beyond those geographical lines. This he noted made the private sector a “high risk one “as regards upholding the rights of children. He called on those industries to ensure that proper monitoring for compliance with the laws of Guyana which protect the right of the child. He said too that children were more vulnerable to localized environmental impact of the extractive industry due to their incomplete physical development. He called on communities near such operations to be protected in this regard and he expressed confidence that the Ministries of Social Protection and Natural Resources and their leadership would continue to forge ahead respect due to the rights of children.
Earlier, UNICEF resident representative, Marianne Flach told the packed room that extractive operations such as mining often occur in some of the most remote areas. She said that these can have profound impact on the lives on some of the most vulnerable children. She expressed hope that the conference would inform companies in the sector about the importance of actively integrating respect and support for children rights into their respective structures. “What if it were my child? “, she asked.
Simon Chorley of UNICEF Canada said that the Canadian government had demonstrated its leadership on engaging mining companies on responsibilities. He pointed to one such priority being the future of children whom he noted are key stakeholders in world affairs since they occupy 1/3 of global population figures. At yesterday’s forum, Aleema Nasir , chairperson of the Rights of the Child Commission said that the body had ongoing engagements with the ministries of government and other stakeholders , including the University of Guyana , Tain Campus. This she noted was testimony of the efforts of the RCC in nurturing a national approach to addressing children rights. She said that it was no secret that the body seeks to involve the business community in its deliberations, noting that it has a critical role to play from safeguarding communities from child labour , trafficking in persons , child prostitution and environmental degradation among other issues.
Nasir also pointed to the fundamental role the State apparatus plays in promoting, monitoring and encouraging the business sector to observe its critical role.
Yesterday’s forum included a number of presentations and discussions , including the measures put in place to address children and mining, prioritizing current impacts on children as well as the interventions of companies in the sector.