When we cannot meet our obligations to children we use the word ‘culture’

Dear Editor,

The news of children giving birth in Georgetown is nothing new in Guyana. All of us are supposed to be working on changing the knowledge and attitudes related to the abuse of children.

There is a case reported by Demerara Waves on 30 September, 2012 which was written by veteran journalist Denis Chabrol. In his article, he says amongst other things, “However, culturally it is normal for Amerindian  girls to be sexually active from as early as 10 years old, resulting in clashes between Indigenous Indian norms and values and those enshrined in law by mostly coastland politicians of other cultural and religious backgrounds.”

Mr Mohammed Khan writing in the Guyana Chronicle on October 2 points out that the media do not normally report on the ethnicity of victims of rape and there are no assumptions about cultural norms of any of the ethnic groups of the perpetrators of rape in any form. This letter adds to the comments which have been made to condemn the contempt displayed for Amerindian children, that they apparently do not deserve the same protections as other children.

The Director of the Childcare and Protection Agency in the Kaieteur News of October 3, 2012 speaks to this issue: “This, what we are seeing is a culture in most Amerindian communities. Girls become sexually active at a very early age and most males from these communities commit carnal knowledge.” Ms Greene probably has data and has reports and evidence of this ‘culture’ which apparently is not the same as other ethnic groups in Guyana. The statement about “most males commit carnal knowledge“ and the silence of those who might have heard this probably means that there is an acceptance that the males (whether from the communities, or from outside the communities) will commit carnal knowledge and get away with it.

These are similar to the views which used to be held about ‘Indian’ girls. It was apparently cultural for them to want to be sexually active and hence they had to be married off early, as well as that Indian communities apparently tolerated the rape of girl children.  There is no questioning about how the girls ‘become’ sexually active. We on the coastland, because we do not want to deal with the rape of children, say instead that they ‘become sexually active’.

In Guyana, many things are taken as ‘culturally’ normal when it comes to the abuse of children. We hear that it is our ‘culture’ to beat children – and it is our culture apparently to neglect them, to humiliate children. The children in Guyana apparently expect to be beaten, some of them expect to be raped, others to be returned to abusive homes without any monitoring or re-education of abusive caregivers. When we cannot meet our obligations to the children, we use the word ‘culture’ and then declare that it is difficult because apparently culture in Guyana is static. The children must therefore endure when we cannot find the willpower or resources to change the cultural habits which promote the abuse of children.

Yours faithfully,
Vidyaratha Kissoon

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