NGOs partner in drive to protect children from sexual abuse

-efforts to focus on parents, communities

Following the gruesome killing of Berbice child Leonard Archibald, who is alleged to have been raped before his death, a group of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are pooling their resources to help parents and galvanise communities as part of a drive to protect children from the scourge of sexual abuse.

The new drive, which is being organised under the theme ‘No More Leonards’ by Monique’s Caring Hands Guyana, United Bricklayers from New Amsterdam and Blossom Inc, will kick off with a walk and a parenting workshop in New Amsterdam.

According to head of Monique’s Caring Hands Guyana, Dr Dawn Stewart-Lyken, the events will be followed up by meetings with community-based groups next month to get them on board. At a press conference at the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry yesterday announcing their plans, Dr. Stewart-Lyken was asked what plan they have to ensure that the initiative is not just another “talk shop.” She said that they have been engaging both the Ministry of Social Protection and the Ministry of Communities, with the aim of enlisting the many community groups overseen by the latter in the drive. She pointed out that all of the NGOs would have been doing work in their various communities and the aim is to build their capacity and ensure that their work is reaching the intended populations. Also, it is hoped that through the drive, residents of communities would understand their responsibility to protect the children in their areas, even if it is just to report suspected abuse.

This latter issue was brought to bear in the case of young Archibald as following his death many in the community alleged that one of the accused killers had molested others.

According to Dr. Stewart-Lyken, a practising psychologist, sexual maltreatment of children is rampant in Guyana as the numbers remain “astonishing.” She said as civil society members they want to be pro-active so that there would be no more tragedies, such as that of Archibald, even as she pointed out that the perpetrators themselves may have been victims at one time and their plight never reported.

Dr. Stewart-Lyken said there should no longer be silence in communities and persons must report all forms of abuse. She said children are exposed many times to different forms of sexual trauma and that it should no longer be acceptable in communities.

“We need to educate communities about sexual trauma,” she said, while warning of the long term effects on children.

“We are going to do what we can to stir up communities and families,” she added.

Meanwhile, according to Juanita Burrowes, of United Bricklayers, sexual abuse of children is rampant in Berbice and sometimes the authorities are not very responsive. She mentioned a case involving a two-year-old, who was returned to the same environment where he was suspected to have been abused. Every time she enquires from the police, Burrowes said she is told that the file is at the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), while the victims continue to live in pain.

Noreeva Griffith, who volunteers at United Bricklayers, called on families to stop shielding and protecting relatives who are abusing children and for neighbours to speak out against suspected paedophiles.