The government has a commendable record in addressing the issue of sexual abuse of children

Dear Editor,

I write in response to a letter written by Help & Shelter and published in the SN on February 15 (‘The Ministers of Education and Human Services should say what they are doing about the sexual abuse of students by teachers’).  The letter writers demanded that the Ministers of Education and Human Services say what they planned to do about rape, sexual abuse and sexual harassment of children by teachers and adults in positions of trust at institutions, including schools and religious organizations.

Whilst I acknowledge the merits of some of the writers’ observations, these persons are making it look as if this government is doing nothing, or that nothing has been done as it relates to issues of sexual abuse and the protection of our children.

This government has a commendable track record of addressing these challenges. It was the former Minister of Human Services and Social Security, now Minister of Education who brought the issues of domestic violence, sexual abuse, harassment and child abuse out of the closet and into the forefront, where they should be.

Lest Ms Radzik and company have forgotten, this PPP/C government has reached out and embraced all stakeholders in making changes, legal, administrative and social. Further, non-governmental organisations have been also supported with funding provided by the public treasury, because we feel it is the right thing to do.

Help and Shelter is foremost among them.  When their international funding ceased, it was this government, which many years ago stepped in to rescue Help and Shelter.  The sum of ten million dollars is now provided on an annual basis since the year 2010. For the period 2007 to 2009 the sum of three million was provided over that period.  In 2011 this was expanded to include the payment of security services provided at Help and Shelter’s location, being borne by government (the Ministry of Labour, Human Services & Social Security).  Similarly, government has had to assist Legal Aid, to support the expansion of services to several regions of Guyana.

Where the protection of our women and children are concerned, among the initiatives implemented are the passage of legislation – comprehensive laws at that; mass education and public awareness programmes, which have been implemented with the assistance of the donor community.  There are also guidelines for the operations of orphanages and many others.

The Ministry of Labour, Human Services and Social Security through the legally created Childcare and Protection Agency in collaboration with the Ministry of Education continues to implement programmes that aim to raise the level of awareness of child abuse, and reduce the incidence of abuse by empowering children to protect themselves.  We have also successfully piloted Child Protection Bills through the parliament which have been made into law, to ensure that our children are kept safe.

The Child Care & Protection Agency cannot alone protect the children of Guyana from the perverseness of child abuse, and it is indeed true that children are often abused by persons in positions of power in their lives.  It is therefore, the collective responsibility of all segments of society, including local groups, civil society, religious bodies and every individual at the community level to take an active part in the process of child protection.

This letter correctly informs of the existing legal provision for the creation of a list of persons unsuitable for work with children.  However, such a list is not simply created upon the whim or opinion of the agency, or the Minister of Human Services and Social Security. In fact, the validity of the list depends upon the submission of names by key stakeholders, upon receipt of confirmation of a conviction of a person for an offence against a child.

Sections 54 and 55 of the Protection of Children Act clearly stipulates the process that the creation of the list of unsuitable individual entails, and identifies steps to be taken to place an individual on this list, and the rights of this individual to appeal this placement.

The Childcare and Protection Agency has been preparing for the implementation of this aspect of the Act, and has already created a manual register and is in the process of creating an electronic database for the purpose of maintaining this list.

It is however imperative that the role of other stakeholders in this process is acknowledged and more importantly placing persons on this list is recognized as a process that first requires that the person be convicted or confirmed as having committed a crime against a child.
The last aspect of the writers’ concerns, relates to some form of screening of individuals. If this were an exact science, it could have been implemented, but sometimes we live in a world of our own.  I do not doubt their passion and commitment, however in Guyana, we are yet to find a system of screening that will prevent abuse.

I wish to reiterate that ‘Child Protection is Everyone’s business.’  ‘All are responsible and must be involved.’

Yours faithfully,
Jennifer Webster
Minister of Human Services
and Social Security

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