Gov’t organising national consultation to address child molestation -Luncheon

Government will meet with national stakeholders to address the scourge of child molestation in wake of recent developments, Cabinet Secretary Dr Roger Luncheon announced yesterday.

While not making direct reference to recent charges of child molestation brought against JFAP leader Chandra Narine Sharma, Luncheon told the media that due to the recent developments Cabinet in seeking to “mobilise popular sentiment” to address what he dubbed the “social scourge.”

This is the first time government has made a move in this direction to deal specifically with sexual molestation of children, although it recently enacted landmark sexual offences laws.

Speaking at the weekly post-Cabinet press briefing, Luncheon said the Cabinet undertook to consult with social partners and non-governmental organisations on dealing with perpetrators and victims and promoting prevention of child molestation. He said that initially Cabinet will focus on the religious community, where much support already exists.

Tolerance for child molestation and paedophilia… must find no home [nor] no peace in Guyana and must have no excuse for its         continued [re-occurrence],” Luncheon said. “So often it is parlayed as indicative of the Guyanese society which of course we do not concede but that argument continues to be made… We are totally dissatisfied with that analysis and we reject the high incidence and prevalence that is reported and also that may very well be not reported,” he emphasised. Luncheon said while interventions would be part of the administration’s focus, it would not attempt to “rule the roost” in that area. However, he said the administration is aware that to be “effective” as is possible there is need for the “sentiment of rejection” prevalent in the majority of the citizenry to be whipped up to a fervour and to send the message to those who are perpetrating, those who are benefiting and those who are defending such behaviour.

Luncheon noted that many excuses have been put forward to justify molestation and to question and cast asperations about the government’s resolve to counter the situation. “I think one can recognise that we are grossly unhappy with the current situation in terms of incidents and prevalence, its manifestations but at the same time the interventions, institutional, legislation and mass mobilisation among social partners and the responsiveness of the Guyanese people, I think it augers well for our efforts and for our future,” he said.

Meanwhile, Luncheon said there is a “big overlap” when it comes to child molestation and domestic violence and it is the same organisations that speak out against the two social ills. He mentioned that the administration last year met with stakeholders and pledged $15M as an “opening offer” to religious communities to, among other things, establish facilities to house victims. He said one organisation in Region 6 has applied for and gotten Cabinet’s approval to establish such a facility. Luncheon added that the government believes that as it continues in the thrust in mobilising, more such facilities would be established.

Asked whether the virtual “slap on the wrist” given to police surgeon Dr Mahendra Chand sends the wrong signal, given the government’s zero tolerance stand on child molestation, Luncheon said the situations cannot be compared. Chand had treated a teen boy tortured by police officers with a bag over his face last year. “I don’t believe that the aspect of the child, the minor and the incident in Region Three when the child was tortured fits readily and easily into this spectrum that we are speaking of. It is not the same. It is not the same. This one here is child sexual molestation, this other one here is about policemen involved in abuse of the use of force in dealing with criminal matters. Different matters in a very tenuous way; the only thread that we would concede is that it involves minors in both cases,” he said. “What happened with the policemen and the abuse of force cannot by any stretch of imagination assume an incidence and prevalence comparable to what sexual molestation of children proves at this point,” he added.

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