On Tuesday last, Red Thread, in conjunction with Help and Shelter, again dealt with the issue of the need for the Sexual Offences Bill to be tabled in Parliament. This decision they say should be in conjunction with the ‘Stamp it Out’ and Child Protection legislation that have already been tabled.
These issues were raised at a press conference hosted at the Help and Shelter office on Homestretch Avenue, Georgetown.
Speaking at the function Help and Shelter’s Court Support Counselor, Karen Gomes, noted that there is indeed a distinct need for a change and the introduction of proper legislation since it is extremely hard for boys and girls to endure Parliament hearings or court appearances that are not always ‘child friendly’.
Gomes noted that children are badgered in court year after year, having their court matters delayed and having to endure the not always pleasant atmosphere of courtrooms and even missing school to make court appearances. She also stressed that if the legislation is passed children will be protected from the unpleasantries they have to face now.
She added that there is need for the ‘buggery law’ to be included in rape, especially for the rape of young boys, many of whom suffer because theses cases are not reported due to the stigma attached to the act.
She noted that while rape is ‘bailable’ in the high court the perpetrators in many cases disappear by the time the case is ready to be heard because of the extended duration it takes for such cases to be called before a magistrate.
While she noted that their campaign is focused on impacting and promoting protection for children it also to some account focuses on the welfare of adults also.
Help and Shelter’s Legal Consultant and Attorney-at-Law, Marcella Thompson, in her presentation, emphasised that the ‘Stamp it Out’ legislation has not gone anywhere, explaining that it was a consultation paper that represented number of changes of the existing law.
Thompson explained that they have been waiting for its implementation for over a year now and are only receiving statements that there is a draft and ‘it’s a done deal’. According to Thompson, that draft has not yet been completed by the Ministry of Legal Affairs.
She noted that the ‘Stamp it Out’ law included reservations to deal with the child having to endure seeing the perpetrator while giving evidence in court, thus reliving their horrid ordeals all over again.
The attorney noted that Help and Shelter recognizes that sexual abuse is intolerable and also that the children suffer further pain by having to endure the court atmosphere, explaining that they are not treated in court as stipulated by the ‘Stamp it Out’ law.
She noted that so far only two child abuse cases have been dissolved, stressing that the least time for the Preliminary Inquiry for one case to come before the court is 15 months. She noted also that since in most cases children give unsworn evidences when the child goes to the high court it is established the evidence is unsworn and should be dealt with ‘specially’.
Red Thread Coordinator, Karen De Souza, explained that in the courts the children are forced to sit for hours, have to review their statements, reliving the horrors of their experiences. She noted that since many such children are from economically challenged homes they may be without a meal for hours which restricts their ability to concentrate and focus to the maximum.
She stressed on the fact that most cases where there is a sexual molestation of a toddler the cases are thrown out since most acts are committed when they are no witnesses around. Since the victims cannot talk or represent themselves the cases are thrown out for lack of concrete evidence, although they may have been committed.
She stressed the need for the Sexual Offences Legislation to be prioritised, noting that the Child Protection Legislation will remove the child from an environment dangerous for its existence.
She also called on the media to assist in removing stigma by not publicizing names, addresses and other particulars of victims or their perpetrators when (the perpetrator) is a direct relative of the victim.
Recently several NGOs have been engaged in protest in various parts of the city to have the ‘Stamp it Out’ laws implemented since they all feel there has been an extended delay on its existence.
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