Youth urge government action on rights abuses

– at thematic hearing

A delegation comprising four young Guyanese from various civil society member organizations of the Guyana Equality Forum (GEF) last month attended a thematic hearing of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in Washington, DC.

According to a statement issued by the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimina-tion (SASOD), the delegation comprised trans rights activist Twinkle Bissoon of Guyana Trans United (GTU) and SASOD; Kobe Smith, Vice-President of Guyana Responsible Parenthood Association’s Youth Advocacy Movement (GRPA’s YAM) and Neketa Forde, Trustee of the Guyana National Youth Council (GNYC), all of whom were led by Social Change Coordinator of SASOD and Coordinator of the GEF Jairo Rodrigues

The GEF delegation presented on the human rights situation affecting young persons in Guyana, specifically focusing on rights abuses against young persons; the lack of implementation of policies and laws that would develop youth in Guyana, protect young people’s rights and citizen security in the state with emphasis on the deficiencies of Guyana’s new National Youth Policy in addressing these rights abuses.

In her address, Bissoon highlighted issues affecting youth due to discriminatory laws and open prejudice in society which encourages homophobic and transphobic bullying in schools, a cause for many LGBT students to drop out and end their education prematurely.

“These disadvantaged youth who may not necessarily receive the support from their families are driven into poverty to fend for themselves and some come into contact with the law, turn to sex work and suffer disproportionately to realize their right to work. LGBT youth face marginalization and challenges accessing health care due to expressive, non-conforming sexual orientation and gender identity [SOGI] and the lack of security and protection from the state,” she said.

Smith spoke of the need for comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) in schools due to the high rate of teenage pregnancy, sexual acts performed by teenagers and the general lack of knowledge on sexual health based on a 2015 survey conducted by the GRPA.

He posited that the publicly-funded and implemented abstinence-only Health and Family Life Education (HFLE) programme, ignores young people’s basic human rights to the highest attainable standard of health by denying them critical life-saving information and the fundamental public health principle of accurate, balanced sex education.

He further called for the government to implement policies to encourage adolescent mothers and teenage mothers to continue their secondary education.

Meanwhile, Forde of the GNYC drew attention to cases of police brutality, bullyism and state shortcomings against youth in the penal and judicial systems of Guyana and called for an action-oriented youth policy and one revised with further consultations with stakeholders to bridge many of the gaps found.

“While, the policy recognizes that LGBT youth are underserved, it does not show how to address those issues. It goes on to reference equity for youth but does not discuss pregnant adolescent mothers and their reintegration into schools or non-discrimination against LGBT students,” Forde was quoted as saying.

“The document mentions sexual orientation and gender identity but there are no commitments to giving support and resources needed to alleviate the plights of LGBT youth. Also found in the policy, priority 1 on youth identity and empowerment is supportive of educating citizens about the differences in class, ethnicity and culture but does not include SOGI. While education reform is mentioned, this reference does not expressly include CSE,” she added.

Also attending the hearing was Margarette May Macaulay, First Vice-President of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and Country Rapporteur for Guyana, along with Second Vice-President of the IACHR and Rapporteur on the Rights of Children and Young Persons, Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño.

Macaulay commended the delegation for a well-researched and thorough presentation.

She noted that young persons are struggling to find their true identities and to live a life of proper dignity which can be difficult and it is the responsibility of the state to ensure protection of the rights for all its citizens especially in regards to CSE, the Ministry of Education’s policies on the treatment of students by teachers, and the treatment by police officers and state officials against vulnerable youth and youth in contact with the law.

In this regard she called for Guyana to sign and ratify the Organisation of American States (OAS) conventions against racism, racial discrimination and all forms of intolerance which will give some protection for points raised in the thematic submission by the petitioners, the statement said.

Meanwhile, First Secretary of Guyana’s Mission to the OAS John Chester-Inniss spoke of Guyana’s commitment to the international agreements made and the obligation the state has to honouring these agreements.

He said the government has taken note of the petition intends to respond with the view of addressing each issue. In past thematic hearings at which the GEF presented in 2013 and 2015, the previous administration was represented by ministers of government and responded to petitioners at the hearings.

“This is the first time, under the new administration, that a high-level official did not attend and present on behalf of the state,” Chester-Inniss added.

Nonetheless, coordinator Jairo Rodrigues expressed that it is the belief of the GEF that after nearly two years in government, the thematic hearing provides an opportunity for dialogue with the APNU+AFC coalition on its seemingly lethargic response to issues affecting the rights of young persons.

Rodrigues thanked the government for dialogue and its work especially in adopting the National Youth Policy and working towards a social cohesion strategy but made note that although these policies exist in theory, the petitioners are calling for practicality; he urged the government to not only commit to international obligations but to its people by ensuring the policies are carried out.