In crisis

In Guyana, it is estimated that some 3,000 young girls drop out of school annually as a result of pregnancy. This is what the Government of Guyana told the United Nations Rights of the Child Committee in a written response to issues raised in its periodic reports to the committee.

According to the UN report, the government said the issue of teenagers becoming pregnant and dropping out of school was “of concern.” It said further that an initiative funded by UNICEF to reintegrate teen mothers into schools was geared at empowering them to regain their dignity and self-worth. And rather than expound on what it is doing to ensure they did not lose dignity and self-worth in the first place—because there are programmes in schools aimed at preventing teenage pregnancy—the government stated: “The greatest threat to the protection and promotion of children’s rights and equal access to services and the potential for a reversal of the democratic and socio-economic gains is emerging from the threat to parliamentary democracy posed by the opposition ‘dictatorship of one’ in the Parliament.”

Three thousand schoolgirls dropping out of school every year because of pregnancy is an indication of a crisis situation. “Annually” indicates that this is something that has been happening over a number of years. The report does not say how many years, but it should be noted that the ‘dictatorship of one’ being touted as a threat to child rights only began after November 2011; it has been just one year.

According to the Stabroek News article, “Statistics in the government’s report showed that from January to March last year, the Childcare and Protection Agency recorded 1,069 incidents of child abuse with 529 cases of neglect, 224 cases of sexual abuse and 213 cases of physical abuse. In 2011 the agency recorded 3,999 incidents of child abuse.
“Further, the government said that in 2012, the police received 146 reports of child abuse and 35 persons were charged with one thus far receiving a 5-year imprisonment term.”

Three thousand schoolgirls pregnant should see 3,000 or thereabouts corresponding charges of statutory rape, annually. Not even close. Rarely are charges pressed against those who sexually violate our children—both boys and girls. Convictions are even rarer. Yet, government has said in its report that children hold a special place on its agenda and it remains unwaveringly committed to fulfilling its obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Pshaw! How can anyone believe this when the physical evidence points to the contrary? Does a caring and committed government act like 3,000 school dropouts a year because of pregnancy is not a big deal? Would a caring and committed government not fast-track the Sexual Offences Act? Why is this important piece of legislation still awaiting the President’s assent?

Guyana’s education sector appears to be lurching from one crisis to the next, with those carrying out its mandate appearing to be simply trotting behind with mops and brooms – cleaning up the mess.

It took years of dismal results in Mathematics and English at the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate exams for efforts to be made to address this. And it will take years for those efforts to make a difference. Too many children are ‘graduating’ from high school still unable to write a proper sentence.

School gangs and violence in schools are causing too many physical injuries and deaths. However, earlier this month, Chief Education Officer Olato Sam referred to strategies aimed at curbing these ills, including the development of a protocol for safe and secure schools.

We are yet to hear what the ministry is doing to reduce and reverse the 3,000 annual dropouts due to pregnancy – not after they would have become pregnant and dropped out, but before. For if this trend continues, and combined with all the other reasons children drop out, particularly boys, we may soon be faced with a whole new generation of illiterates.

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