Guyana hailed for protection of children
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Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Basil Williams
Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Basil Williams

…working to create multi-year action plan for implementation of the HCCH Conventions
…expansion of CPA Adoption Unit, Child Abduction Bill in the pipeline

By Svetlana Marshall
EVEN as it works to develop a multi-year action plan for full implementation of The Hague Conference on Private International Law (HCCH) Conventions, Guyana has been recognised for leading the Americas in the protection of children.

At the opening of the a stock-taking meeting on the HCCH Conventions at the Marriot Hotel on Wednesday, HCCH and the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), highlighted the fact that Guyana is the first State of the Americas to be party to all HCCH Children’s Conventions.

Guyana has acceded to the Child Protection, Child Abduction, Intercountry Adoption Convention, and the Child Support Conventions. The Child Support Convention will come into force in March 2020.

HCCH Representative, Ignacio Goicoechea

HCCH Representative, Ignacio Goicoechea, said implementation of the HCCH Child Protection Conventions and the Convention on the Rights of the Children is no easy task, but Guyana has made remarkable progress since 2016.

“Guyana is, somehow, leading by example in this continent as the first country to sign all four conventions,” Goicoechea said. He said the HCCH family is eagerly working with Guyana to ensure implementation of the child protection conventions in a systematic manner.

UNICEF Representative for Guyana and Suriname, Sylvie Fouet, also took stock of the progress made by Guyana, even as she renewed UNICEF’s commitment to work with the HCCH, the Legal Affairs Ministry and all other stakeholders to advance Child Rights in the country.

“Guyana is the first State in the Americas to be party to all HCCH Children’s Conventions – namely Adoption, Abduction, Child Protection and Child Support,” the UNICEF Representative iterated while noting that the journey started four years ago (July 2016) when 118 participants from 25 territories met in Georgetown to discuss the work of the HCCH and the relevance of some core conventions and instruments to Guyana and the wider Caribbean region.

“Since then, Guyana has taken several quantum leaps to ensure that the agenda for children remains a priority. To name a few – the Alternative Care Policy (adopted), the revision of the Adoption Law and thirdly the revision of the Kidnapping Act 2011,” Fouet told the country’s legal luminaries, child rights activists, diplomats and other key stakeholders.

A section of the attendees Photos by Adrian Narine

The achievements made to date, Fouet said, would not have been possible without the unwavering support and commitment of the Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Basil Williams; his chambers and the HCCH family. She was also keen on singling out the Foreign Affairs Ministry, the Social Protection Ministry, the Child Care and Protection Agency, the police, the Judiciary and the Department of Public Prosecutions.

As the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) celebrates 30 years of existence, the UNICEF Representative said it is important to note the challenges made by Guyana in changing the environment. “At a time of speaking of an oil economy and of migration flows, these are two examples which may propel the use of these conventions. There is a need for local action to ensure that the best interest of children comes first,” she said.

For every child’s protection and happiness, Fouet said UNICEF stands committed to ensuring that a plan of action is operationalised for each of the conventions.

In his address, the Attorney General said the stock-taking meeting was designed to help Guyana chart its next steps with respect to the implementation of the Hague Family Conventions through the passage of domestic legislation. He noted too that major emphasis is being placed on capacity building within institutions to allow for effective implementation of laws once passed by the National Assembly.

“The implementation of the Hague Family Conventions will buttress the existing local legislation to secure the protection of our children and provide for their best interests,” he explained.

With Guyana gaining increasing attention globally in light of its ongoing oil explorations and discoveries, the Attorney General said it is critical to have legislation and regulations in place to safeguard the rights of children.

“The increasing oil exploration in Guyana has contributed to increased migration patterns and consequently the change in family dynamics. Therefore, recognising that the legal landscape has changed, Guyana has chosen to embrace the protection that the Hague Conventions on Family Law brings, especially to children. As our Constitution recognises, the best interest of the child must always be paramount and when confronted with this changing world, the Hague Conventions allow Guyana to ensure that the child’s interest remains paramount,” Minister Williams explained.

The 1980 Child Abduction Convention, 1993 Inter-Country Adoption Convention, 1996 Child Protection Convention and 2007 Child Support Convention – are all useful Conventions that support the strengthening of a country’s capacity to manage and preside over child protection issues both locally and internationally, he said.

He disclosed that the implementation of the Hague Adoption Convention into domestic legislation will necessitate a review, improvement and expansion of the existing Adoption Unit of the Childcare and Protection Agency and the operations of the Adoption Board.
“It will also enhance the procedural arrangements involved in the adoption process and provide more opportunities for capacity development in the department. The co-operation provisions of the Convention provide the basic framework for the exchange of information and for the necessary degree of collaboration between administrative authorities in the Contracting States. Already, we have an Adoption (Amendment) Bill, which seeks to give this Convention the force of law in Guyana and a working draft of Hague Adoption Regulations outlining the procedural aspects of the Convention,” the Attorney General detailed.

According to the Attorney General, the Drafting Division has also commenced work on a bill to give effect to the 1980 Child Abduction Convention. The convention addresses the issue of the removal of a child out of the jurisdiction by one parent without the consent of the other parent and, therefore, provides for the expeditious return of the child. In other words, the convention provides recourse for the aggrieved parent to approach the courts for relief.

He explained that the other family conventions – the Convention on the International Recovery of Child Support and Other Forms of Family Maintenance, and the Convention on Jurisdiction, Applicable Law, Recognition, Enforcement and Co-operation in respect of Parental Responsibility and Measures for the Protection of Children – seek to establish a modern, efficient and accessible international system for the cross-border recovery of child support and other forms of family maintenance.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the well-being of our children is a key concern of this government and we commit ourselves to do all we can to protect our children. In doing so, we are protecting our future,” he told those present.

Outside of the Hague Family Conventions, Minister Williams alluded to the fact that Guyana has also acceded to the Hague Convention Abolishing the Requirement of Legalisation for Foreign Public Documents, simply known as the Apostille Convention.

“Our accession to this convention signals Guyana’s commitment to ensuring that we foster an environment that contributes to the ease of doing business. This is much needed since we are about to enter a season of significant economic growth,” Minister Williams explained.

Added to that, the Chancellor of the Judiciary, Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards, and Chief Justice, Roxane George-Wiltshire, are now part of The International Hague Network of Judges.

Chief Parliamentary Counsel, Charles Fung-a-Fatt, SC, CCH; Director of Public Prosecutions, Shalimar Ali-Hack, SC; Commissioner of Police, Leslie James, DSS, DSM; Deputy High Commissioner of the British High Commission, Ray Davidson; and President of the Guyana Bar Association, Teni Housty, were among the officials present in addition to the Chancellor and Chief Justice.

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