In February of this year hundreds of incensed citizens gathered opposite the office of the Mayor and City Council (M&CC) to protest the implementation of the parking meter system. The public’s outrage was strong and evident. On August 22, 2017, an alleged heinous incident occurred. A 15-year-old boy was reportedly sexually abused by a Lance Corporal while in the custody of the City Constabulary. It appears that senior officials of the M&CC including the Town Clerk and the Mayor became aware of the report shortly after August 22, 2017 but did not notify the Guyana Police Force (GPF) until October 17, 2017.The reported indifference and callousness in which this incident has been dealt with for close to two months is more worthy of the public’s fury; but where is the public outrage? Where are the protesters? This matter was highlighted in the presence of the press by the Child Rights Alliance (CRA) on September 15th 2017 at the launching of the Child Neglect in Guyana research yet the matter was given very little attention. This is intolerable.
The Protection of Children Act 2009, Section 7 (1) clearly states “When a person has direct information that a child is or may be in need of protective intervention, the person shall immediately report the matter to the Director of the Childcare and Protection Agency, a probation officer appointed by the Public Service Commission or a police officer.”
Instead it appears that the Town Clerk took it upon himself to question the child without having a Childcare and Protection Agency (CPA) Officer or a police officer present. Does the Town Clerk consider he is above the law? The CRA demands an explanation from the Town Clerk for this lawless behaviour. Further, the public should be horrified to know that a child was reportedly sexually abused by a City Constabulary officer and that the Town Clerk and the Mayor became aware of the incident shortly afterwards, but the Guyana Police Force (GPF), according to media reports, was not notified until October 17, 2017.
The law of Guyana is clear: matters pertaining to child sexual abuse should be immediately brought to the attention of CPA or the GPF. It is the CPA that is mandated by law to handle matters of child sexual abuse. There are Child Advocacy Centres (CACs) in Regions Three, Four and Five which are operated by CRA member ChildLinK, in collaboration with the CPA. The CAC provides forensic interviews for child survivors of sexual abuse. A trained forensic interviewer interviews the child while representatives from the GPF and the CPA view the interview on a monitor in another room to ensure and support the child to provide all the information in one interview. It is traumatic for a child to recount what happened and this system ensures that the child goes through the ordeal once. The Forensic Interviewers are trained to help the child disclose the abuse while supporting the child and safeguarding him/her from further abuse. The CAC provides trauma focused therapy which can help the child to cope with the trauma of the abuse. The Town Clerk has no such training and is wholly unfit for the task of interviewing a child
who has suffered sexual abuse. We are deeply concerned at the possible harm inflicted on this child by the actions of the Town Clerk and those present at this unlawful ‘questioning’.
Guyana’s Constitution, the Protection of Children Act 2009, and the Sexual Offences Act 2010 require the State to act in the best interest of the child. The Town Clerk, a public officer, failed to do so.
The Sexual Offences Act 2010 Section 42 (1) states “where a report is made of an offence under this Act at no point during the investigation shall the complainant be required to recount the complaint or any part of it, in the presence of the accused unless the complainant wants to do so.” It appears, according to media reports, that other people were present during this unlawful questioning by the Town Clerk. Was the accused Lance Corporal one of them? This is a violation of the law and the child’s right to protection. Guyana is a signatory on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC)). Article 3 of the UNCRC clearly states, “The best interest of the child must be the primary concern in making decisions that may affect them”. The Town Clerk and Mayor’s decisions were not in the best interest of this child.
Recently, there have been alarming reports of the increase of sexual violence against boys. The case of the late Leonard Archibald, 13-year-old boy from East Berbice, demonstrated that certain members of the public did not report perpetrators of any form of child abuse. It must be noted that all forms of abuse of children can be prevented and must not be tolerated. While the community’s silence may have failed Leonard, we cannot allow our collective silence to fail this 15-year-old boy. Further, in the absence of the Local Government Commission, citizens need to be more proactive and call for the resignation of the Town Clerk. Additionally, the citizens of Georgetown need to carefully consider if the Mayor is knowledgeable of the laws and conventions in place to safeguard children and more so her commitment to establishing policies and systems that protects the citizens of the city. The Mayor must also recognize that she has a role in protecting citizens which include children. The Child Rights Alliance calls on the Guyanese public to condemn the treatment of this child.
Child Rights Alliance