Dec 10, 2015 News
Two little girls aged five and seven, were sexually abused by their mother’s boyfriend and subsequently taken into local authority care. The trauma of being taken away from everything they knew as normal: their home, their school, their mother, their Aunty and Grandmother’s care, must have had a negative impact on them initially.
They were thrust into the institutional care of strangers and made to live among children of various ages who had undergone similar traumas in their short lives. Although they were the victims of a crime, they were made to pay a sad price, by being institutionalized, all because of a mother who failed to protect them and a wanton, fiendish act by a man who has little or no morals.
Like most children, they adapted to their fate; they learnt the regulations and abided by the rules; this was their new home. It was also a chapter of their childhood that would no doubt be with them for the rest of their lives.
While they were in care, the perpetrator who was initially locked up pending trial had obtained a lawyer to defend his case. Seemingly the law was doing the correct thing in striving to obtain justice for the victims.
However, contrary to striving for justice, the fact is that, on several occasions over a span of two to three years these young girls were whisked away from the children’s home, in care of a social worker and made to attend the daunting environment of a court of law. They were questioned by a defence lawyer like criminals and liars and made to tell the story of their ordeal over and over again, even though medical evidence would have already proven that they had been sexually molested and they had already identified their molester.
As adults we never like to be reminded of anything that may have caused us undue distress or upset in anyway, yet where was the consideration given to the anguish or the long term affects that attending court, (due to sexual molestation) would have on two young children? This was, and in some cases, still is, our system here in Guyana.
Children are molested, their innocent childhoods snatched away. They are then hurled into a world of investigations, interviews, examinations and sometimes even accusations, where sometimes very little sensitivity is shown to their plight or to their psychological disposition. Surely this is an infringement and violation of their human rights.
Furthermore in this particular case, after so many years in care and after so many court appearances, the girls received no justice. Their molester was never sentenced. Today he is walking the streets, possibly in a new relationship, where he is free to molest other children, and the girls are living with an extended family member.
In 2013 The Child Care and Protection Agency partnered with two local NGO’s “Child LinK Inc”. and “Forward Guyana” and along with their development partner, the Delegation of the European Union they worked to establish Child Advocacy Centres in Regions Three, Four and Five.
Child Advocacy centres (CAC) have been set up as a way of ensuring a safe, more-co-ordinated and efficient service for children who have been abused.
The CAC lessens the trauma for the child who is making the statement about abuse: this is done by allowing the child to speak with a trained counsellor while being recorded on camera. This is known as Forensic Interviewing. Once the interview has taken place, the child will not have to repeat his or her story again at different times to various bodies such as child protection officers, medical staff, the Police, Lawyers and the Judiciary.
The Child Advocacy Centres fall under the Ministry of Social Protection’s ‘Child Protection Programme’, with an oversight from the ‘Childcare and Protection Agency’. In order for these centres to be used to their optimum capacity, collaboration between interested bodies must exist. A representative from each relevant sector must attend the interview and watch the process in an adjoining room.
This is called a multi-discipline approach, where persons from the law enforcement, the child protective services and mental health and medical profession, sit together, study the case and work out the best way forward for a successful prosecution.
Inter-agency association means less anguish for the child victim and their families: they don’t have to go to several agencies, repeating the same story each time. It also promotes a consistent and more effective service where relevant bodies can collaborate on a number of child protection issues. This, no doubt, will result in the more successful prosecution of perpetrators.
There can never be too many facilities for children in Guyana, and the entire concept behind Child Advocacy centres signify a step in the right direction for the protection of those children who need a special kind of assistance in order to relate and cope with the undesirable experiences they have encountered.
What the two little girls went through on a number of levels was a violation of their rights. First the sexual abuse, then the separation from family, then the court appearances and testaments: imagine, sexually abused children being made to stand up in a court of law to testify, or visiting different agencies or establishments where they have to go over the details of their abuse again and again. It could never be right.
It is clear to see that Child Advocacy Centres are very much needed in Guyana and the use of their facilities should be mandatory for all cases of abuse against children. Greater commitment, dedication and collaboration from the respective agencies and especially the Government of Guyana are essential.
This will help to enhance and establish the sustainability of these centres and ensure Human Rights for our most vulnerable citizens – our children.
Human Rights Day is commemorated annually to remind people that everyone is entitled to basic human rights. Everyone has the right to be treated fairly and with dignity, without stigmatizationn discrimination or prejudice. Let us continually work towards empowering Human Rights here in Guyana.
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