The growing incidence of teenage pregnancy in hinterland communities and the settling of rape cases by compensation were among the issues raised when Minister of Human Services and Social Security, Priya Manickchand, met with toshaos on Wednesday.
Manickchand held discussions with the Amerindian village leaders on the third day of the Toshaos Conference held at the International Conference Centre at Liliendaal. However, due to time constraints the issues raised were limited to brief discussions but Manickchand made a commitment to follow-up on the reports over the next few months as the ministry collects feedback countrywide on its recently launched sexual offences consultation paper, ‘Stamp it out.’
The minister gave a brief presentation on the paper and invited comments. Mark George, toshao of Annai Village pointed out that in his community there are cases where young women are having children and are unable to say definitively who the fathers are. He recalled that at a recent baptism, the young mother was at a loss for words when the priest enquired of the child’s father.
“It is a very serious situation and one that warrants urgent action. Minister you must come to Annai and talk with the people so they can better understand the law and change how they are living,” George pleaded.
Highlighting the situation in the Berbice River, one of the toshaos said there is need for the minister to pay particular attention to the area since many young women and men are trapped in a cycle of pregnancy and child labour. He said there are a number of teenage mothers in the area and many young children are forced into the job market.
The man added that social workers visit the area infrequently.
Additionally, the man queried whether toshaos can pursue rape cases after the parties would have received compensation and settled out of court since according to him, this practice is becoming too frequent.
In response Manickchand said she is aware of the need for resident social workers in the area.
She said the ministry is working on having at least one social worker placed in the area. She said too that the area will receive the desired attention since the concerns raised are troubling.
Manickchand said the issue of compensation is addressed in the consultation paper, adding that there are proposals for the Director of Public Prosecutions to be the sole decision-maker on whether a case should end and for persons who accept compensation and end matters to be charged with obstructing the course of justice.
Another toshao asked whether the village leaders should report young women under the age of 16 who become pregnant to the authorities.
He said there are many in his area and the majority are still at school. To this, Manickchand said it is not mandatory to report pregnancies but any girl under age 16 who becomes pregnant is a victim of statutory rape and as such the man responsible can be charged.
‘Stamp it out’ deals with a comprehensive review of law and policy on sexual offences and also sets out proposals aimed at reforming the law, strengthening protection and improving support and services for victims.