It is said that the success of a Government and by extension the development of a nation can be measured by the way the most vulnerable citizens are treated. The elderly, children, and women are often times if not always a part of the nation’s vulnerable citizens. As such, as we prepare to usher in the 49th year of independence of this the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, as we embrace a change in governance, and as we celebrate the inauguration of the new government we must not for one second forget that there are many Guyanese still waiting for the winds of change to blow into their corner. Fortunately, the new government is poised with the opportunity to make a positive impact on the lives of Guyana’s most vulnerable citizens.
For decades crime and violence have been menaces to the Guyanese society. In fact over the years billions of dollars have been spent to create institutions aimed at fighting crime, however crime is still on the rise in Guyana. Sadly, over the years our women, children, and the elderly (especial elderly females) have been facing the brute force of said violence. Most upsetting is high rate of sexual violence against these groups in Guyana. In fact, although the exact figures have been elusive there has been an increase in sexual violence over the years.
According to a study conducted by the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) in 2005 called without conviction, sexual violent crimes against women in Guyana are escalating: a rise of one-third in rape reports (117 to 154) occurred between 2000-2004 and a sixteen-fold rise in statutory rapes (2 to 34). Also for this time period 92% of all victims were females, 43% were in the 12 to 15 age group, 26% were in the 1 to 12 age group and Amerindian girls ages 12 to 16 were the most vulnerable nationally.
Most recently there has already been a 70% increase in reported rapes for the year of 2015. While, in 2014 there were 140 reported cases from January to September and in 2013 there were 179 reported cases from January to July. This coupled with the increase in rape/murder of elderly women and rape of young children and infants are indicators that much more need to be done to curb this plague.
Sadly, despite these alarming figures, majority of rapes still go unreported in Guyana. Reasons being are that rape is still taboo, and victims out of fear of discrimination and to prevent “victim shaming” refuse to report and follow-up on rape cases. This have led to an unacceptably low conviction rate which was reported by GHRA to be a minute 1.4% in 2005.
Even more distressing was the revelation by the previous Attorney General, Anil Nandlall who explained that from 2011 to present there have been no convictions for sexual offences in Guyana. The Guyana Times in a September 2014 edition stated that the Attorney General lamented that the reasons for no convictions were the archaic jury system and reluctant witnesses. In addition, over the years GHRA also blamed the lack of rape kits at hospitals, flimsy evidence, an inefficient jury system, shoddy persecution of such cases, reluctance of victims to give witness, and the discontinuance of cases owing to unwillingness of victims to pursue as the reasons why the conviction rates have been abysmal over the years.
It is my opinion that the major cause of the issues mentioned above is in fact the lack of the full implementation and enforcement of the Sexual Offence Act of Guyana. The act which was passed in parliament and assented to by the former President of Guyana in 2010 was created to address several issues. Issues such as the protection of victims, a more robust judiciary and jury system, proper evidence collection, and the establishment of a task force aimed at making sure the relevant organs involved are adequately trained and equipped and thus leading to positive results. However, after 5 years and although some amendments were made the act is yet to be fully implemented and enforced.
In January of 2015 the United Nations (UN) made several recommendations to Guyana at the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (URP) held in Switzerland. Of the 143 recommendations Guyana accepted 75 and made a commitment to consider another 64. The full implementation of the Sexual Offence Act was among those recommendations accepted.
It is therefore a task of the new Government to ensure that our women, children and the elderly are protected from all forms of abuse. Hence, I believe that by starting with the full implementation and proper enforcement of the Sexual offence Act that we will see more positive results for rape survivors. In fact, a functioning legislative will definitely increase the current abysmal rate of convictions and will lead to more survivors been able to speak out and make more reports. My hope is that by having a more robust system where the full blunt of the law is recognized that more convictions will be made and fewer persons will attempt to carry out such criminal acts.
In addition, the new Government should liaison with civil society and NGOs who have been spearheading the fight against gender based violence in Guyana. Coupled with agencies such as GHRA more effective programs can be adapted to ensure that adequate awareness on the ills of sexual violence is raised.
Further, the reduction of sexual violence is a battle we must all fight to ensure that Guyana becomes a better nation for all. It will take each and every citizen to stand up and speak out against sexual violence and to stop turning a blind eye if we are achieve this. It is only then that Guyanese children, women, and our elderly can truly live a life free from fear. It is only then that we as a nation can really celebrate true independence from the crimes and violence that have been plaguing us for decades.
The UN’s next meeting is slated for June 2015. This meeting can and should see Guyana been held accountable to ensure it upholds the accepted recommendations. As such I am hopeful that the new Government will continue to work to eradicate the ills faced by many citizens here in Guyana and that the winds of positive change will be felt by all Guyanese.