Jan 03, 2011 News
The National Assembly on Thursday last approved legislation that will raise the recruitment age for persons desirous of joining the Guyana Defence Force in a bid to ensure that there are no child soldiers in Guyana.
The legislation was piloted by Minister of Legal Affairs, Charles Ramson, who told the House that it helps to bring Guyana in compliance with its international obligations
“This House is being asked to give its approval in light of the Convention of the Rights of the Child.”
He said that Guyana has a responsibility under international treaty which deals with human rights and it must be respected and upheld.
He said that in 1975 when the government reduced the age to 16, they did not recognise that municipal policy would collide with international obligations.
Peoples National Congress Reform Shadow Legal Affairs Minister, Clarrissa Reihl, in her presentation to the House, said that she has a fundamental problem with having a 16-year-old bear arms for a country whether with parental consent or not.
She pointed to the fact that at that age they cannot even vote and, “we should go back to 18.”
According to Reihl, by allowing the army to recruit 16-year olds, it was just a way for parents to get rid of their children when they cannot find jobs for them. “…we don’t want child soldiers,” said Reihl.
The Parliamentarian did point out that while the legislation conforms to international treaties signed, it did conflict with some other laws such as the Sexual Offences Act.
And she again chided the administration for the fact that the laws that are brought to the House along with other amendments are being done in a piecemeal fashion.
She again reiterated her call for a Law Reform Commission.
Foreign Affairs Minister Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett, who supported the amendments to the Defence Force Act, gave some reflections to its genesis.”
She said two decades ago, the government ratified the convention to rights of the child, which is filled with several laudable obligations including the state parties taking measures to protect children in armed conflict.
The Foreign Affairs Minister did point out that at the time, child soldier was a huge problem that needed to be addressed.
“While Guyana is not in armed conflict, we are concerned about the issue.”
With the new law, persons between 16 and 18 will be allowed to be recruited as apprentices and will not be given any weapons training until they reach 18.
She said that for Guyana to make the changes in law, it sends a clear message to the international community that the country is serious about the issue.
Alliance for Change Chairman, Khemraj Ramjattan, in his presentation, told the members of the House that, “having heard the rationale behind the amendment, we support the bill.”
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