Nov 13, 2008 News
By Gary Eleazar
Apart from murder, rape, which is one of the most serious, heinous and demeaning crimes a person can commit on another human being, and because of its nature and prevalence in the world, Guyana being no exception, and its repercussions, Minister of Human Services and Social Security is seeking to have the penalties maximised by introducing new legislation.
Minister Priya Manickchand, in an invited comment yesterday, disclosed that her office has completed a draft of a piece of legislation entitled ‘The Sexual Offences Bill’.
This Bill stems directly from and includes contributions made during the recently concluded ‘Stamp it Out’ consultations.
“All of the proposed clauses in the Bill were stridently called for by the people of Guyana during the consultation period.”
According to the Minister, as it is right now, the offence of rape is restricted to penetration of the vagina by the penis, hence some of the worst sexual violence against men, women and children involving other types of penetration can only be prosecuted as indecent assault, which carries a lesser penalty.
“If a person were to insert a bottle or broomstick or other implement into the anus or vagina of a man or woman it would not be considered rape, but sexual assault which would mean that the penalty would not be as punitive as it should be,” said Manickchand.
She added that in line with reforms around the world and to maximise protection, there will be a clause in the piece of legislation that widens the definition of rape to cater for “offensive activities we know are happening”.
The new definition of rape will, if approved in the National Assembly, “include any intrusion, however slight, of any part of a person’s body or of any object into the vagina or anus of another person, and any contact, however slight, between the mouth of one person and the genitals or anus of another, including but not limited to sexual intercourse, cunnilingus, fellatio, anal intercourse and female to female genital contact….
“The definition is gender-neutral, meaning that rape of both male and female victims, by a male or female offender, is covered.”
Anyone found guilty of rape under the modified definition could be jailed for life on conviction.
To avoid doubt the legislation will make clear that women could also rape men, according to Manickchand.
The Minister noted, also, that the existing offence of indecent assault covers a wide range of offences, from relatively minor assaults to the most serious violent attacks. She added that there are currently three different offences of indecent assault, “one relating to indecent assault by a male on a male, and another relating to indecent assault of a woman by a man….There is no law relating to sexual assault of a man by a woman.”
Manickchand, through the proposed piece of legislation, is seeking to make the offence of sexual assault gender-neutral, and cover the sexual touching of another person in coercive circumstances, ranging from ‘groping’ to very serious assaults.
She added also that one of the most worrying aspects of sexual violence in Guyana is the rising level of offences against children, both adolescent and increasingly very young children.
The Minister pointed out that some prosecutors have estimated that almost half of their current sexual offence cases concern child victims with the vast majority of offences being committed by family members or persons well known to the victim.
She noted that the prevention of child sex abuse and punishment of offenders is a very high priority. As such the proposed legislation will be forming part of a wider strategy under the national plan of action to protect orphans and vulnerable children from all forms of abuse, and there will be more protections included in the forthcoming children’s Bills.
According to Manickchand, there is embedded in the legislation what can be referred to as non-consent offences.
“That means that it is irrelevant whether or not the (child) victim consented….That also means that the defendant shall not be able to advance as a defence the victim’s consent to the sexual activity which forms any charge under these clauses.”
There are also provisions in the proposed legislation, according to Manickchand, that caters for where a person engages in sexual penetration with another person who is under the age of 16 or intentionally causes that other person to engage in sexual penetration with a third party.
That person will be guilty of rape and liable to imprisonment for life, she said, adding that it would be irrelevant whether the perpetrator believed the victim to be over 16 years at the time.
There will also be provisions for instances where a person engages in sexual activity but not penetration with another person who is under the age of 16, or intentionally causes that other person to engage in sexual activity but not penetration with a third party, including but not limited to causing the other person to masturbate.
That person is guilty of an offence (not rape) and would be liable on summary conviction to 10 years or on conviction on indictment, to 15 years.
The Minister pointed out that in this case it would also be irrelevant whether the perpetrator believed the victim to be over 16 years at the time.
She added that a worrying trend was the fact that adults were in some instances forcing children to watch sexual activity whether it is the person being in the actual room where the act of sexual intercourse or even masturbation is happening or by the use of images.
According to the Minister, the proposed legislation will cater to this phenomenon wherein a person would be guilty of an offence if, for the purpose of obtaining sexual gratification, he/she intentionally causes a person, who is under the age of 16, to watch a third person engaging in a sexual activity, or to look at an image of any person engaging in a sexual activity.
A person guilty of such an offence would also be subjected to the punitive measures.
The Minister cautioned, however, that the legislation was still at its final drafting stage and is hopeful that it could be tabled in the National Assembly before the end of the year.
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