As Guyana joins the rest of the world in observing Child Protection Week under the theme “Children’s Safety and Security, Our Priority”, the haunting incidents of rape and sexual assault against women and girls continue to trouble this nation. The sad reality of this recently unfolded when a 21-year-old mother of one died following a sexual attack by a minibus driver. So severe were her injuries that a child is now left motherless. In 2015, there were over 230 reports of rape, but only 36 persons were charged. Compounding this actuality is also the fact that there is a stark court backlog on tackling cases of sexual violence.A recent United States Department report on human rights outlined that in Guyana, a high number of rape and sexual assaults are unreported to authorities, citing that this was most likely as a result of fear of stigma, a lack of confidence in authorities, retribution, or further violence.As with any form of violence, sexual violence tears at the fabric of a country’s well-being. However, when the agency responsible for helping victims of rape describes this horrendous crime as mere “deflowering”, the sad unravelled truth of our country’s approach to this crime is evident. “Deflowering” means to deprive (a woman) of her virginity, but is that what rape is? Mere deflowering? The Social Protection Ministry, in its statement on Guyana’s observances for Child Protection Week, stated that “incest and underage sexual activity in childhood (are) also of grave concern to the Childcare & Protection Agency (CPA), an arm of the Ministry. This deflowering of our children must stop.”It is frighteningly obvious that the Social Protection Ministry needs a trained psychologist to educate its staff about the true meaning of rape, particularly child rape, which is not simply “deflowering” even if the victim was virginal. Rape is more than “deflowering”; rape is sexual abuse, a lifelong scar. The Ministry needs to also be enlightened that rape and other forms of sexual assault have traumatic psychological, emotional, physical, social, interpersonal, and financial impact on victims. According to a study conducted by Rape Victims Advocates (RVA), each survivor reacts to sexual assault in their own unique way. Personal style, culture, and context of the survivor’s life may affect these reactions. Some victims may tell others right away what happened, others will wait weeks, months, or even years before discussing the assault, if they ever choose to do so.Earlier this year, Social Protection Minister Volda Lawrence came in for much criticism after she made some unfortunate remarks and had a casual approach in defence of a man, who was charged for sexual molestation. The Minister, in defence of the man, was quoted by another section of the media as saying, “This is a family issue that has been going on and on and on and on for whatever reason, I can’t tell you, because if I had a brother, even if there was an accusation, this is not how I would go about helping him.”What was rather disappointing is that the alleged molester’s sister further alleged that she told the Minister that her brother needed to be jailed for his involvement, but Lawrence asked her not to pursue such actions.Less than six months later, there is a statement issued by the Ministry the same Minister heads defining rape of children as simply “deflowering”.The Social Protection Ministry is where victims of such a dreadful crime seek refuge not only for their physical well-being but also for justice. As such, if rape/sexual assault victims’ tragedy is seen as mere “deflowering” by this ministry, then where can they truly seek help? This time around, President David Granger needs to do much more than modestly ask the Minister for an explanation.
Dear Editor,I am compelled by every decent fibre in my consciousness to express outrage, disbelief, and utter frustration that the discourse which surrounds the unilateral appointment of the GECOM Chairman by President David Granger would move so swiftly into the gutter.This ought to be an intellectual discourse as it relates to the constitutional provisions, instead of an open, unbridled perpetuation of racism and a pro-black agenda by a small group of Guyanese who clearly have special interest.For the purposes of clarity, it is my belief that no race is superior to another, neither should anyone be discriminated against, or positively promoted, because of his or her race. I believe in meritocracy. A person should be judged on the content of their character, their performance, their capacity, and more importantly their integrity. All race groups have produced outstanding, distinguished and noble citizens in this country, and we have persons of all race groups on the wrong side of the law.Having said that, let me now respond to public utterances of the Rastafarian Community of All Guyana, The African Cultural and Development Association (ACDA), Pan African Group (Guyana) Branch, The All African Guyanese Association, and Concerned Citizens in the Diaspora.The Rastafarian Community of All Guyana, which I have noted are 12 citizens, as distinct from the Guyana Rastafarian Council, said these words: “Thus, of the six General and Regional Elections since the implementation of the Carter Formula, five have been chaired by a Guyanese of East Indian descent and one by a Guyanese of African Descent. For our sacred space and consciousness as a multi-racial society, we urge all Guyanese to embrace the appointment of Justice James Patterson, a Guyanese of African descent. This bodes well for ethnic relations within Guyana. We are in the United Nations Decade for People of African Descent.”This statement is:(a) Toxic and laden with a pro-African agenda, and it is an open promotion of a belief that “it’s Afro-Guyanese time now”.(b) It represents total misunderstanding of the Carter Formula, since all of the names extracted and appointed GECOM Chairman came from the various lists submitted by various Leaders of the Opposition during the 1990 to 2015 period. In every instance six (6) names were submitted, and on every occasion the President, from that first list, chose one (1) name. The PPP/C, whilst in office, had no way of installing an Indo-Guyanese as Chairman of GECOM if that name was not submitted by the then Leader of the Opposition. At no time was an Indo-Guyanese unilaterally appointed by any PPP/C President as Chairman of GECOM. Mr Doodnauth Singh S.C., Major General (Rtd) Joseph Singh, and Dr Steve Surujbally were names on lists submitted by Mr Desmond Hoyte S.C. to the then President of Guyana. Those lists included, among others, twice the name Brigadier (Rtd) David Granger.(c) The issue of the race or ethnicity of the six (6) nominated persons as required by Article 161 (2) of the Constitution was never a matter of discussion. Race is not a criterion for suitability for this post. Even if, for argument’s sake, race is to be considered in this appointment, why didn’t the President choose any of the Afro-Guyanese that were named among the eighteen (18) persons submitted by the current Leader of the Opposition?(d) The “Rastafarian Community of All Guyana” may want to consider this outlandish and ill-advised commentary, for in their above-mentioned statement they have disparaged the names and reputations of very eminent, qualified, distinguished and upstanding Afro-Guyanese. On behalf of all Guyana, I do offer these eighteen distinguished Guyanese my sincere apology for this mistreatment.This diatribe must be rejected as the views of twelve (12) Rastafarians, and not as the view of the Rastafarian community in Guyana, or the majority of Afro-Guyanese citizens.I now turn my attention to the African Cultural and Development Association (ACDA), Pan African Group (Guyana) Branch, the All African Guyanese Association, and Concerned Citizens in the Diaspora.In a very bold attempt, these four (4) groups have sought to justify President Granger’s action as constitutional by beating the drums of racism. In one statement, they have attacked, insulted and created wedges, built walls of division by coming up against every group that has spoken as it relates to the President’s action in an unfavourable manner. This is a worrying development, and can be viewed as an evil of monumental proportions.Is the Private Sector Commission comprised solely of Indians? Don’t we have successful Afro-Guyanese entrepreneurs and businessmen?Is the Guyana Human Rights Association a partner of the PPP/C? Laughable!Are all the Guyanese lawyers, businessmen, accountants and other professionals Indo-Guyanese who have benefited, according to their statement, “in a developed criminal state of money laundering, theft and embezzlement, etc.”? Are all our professionals crooks? Unbelievable!Are all the beneficiaries of lands, radio and television licences, house lots, scholarships etc under the PPP/C Indo-Guyanese? Who revoked the leases of the 41 Afro-Guyanese farmers at Seafield on the West Coast of Berbice?Are all the people who died as a result of extra-judicial killings during the vicious crime wave only Afro-Guyanese? Were they killed by Indo-Guyanese? It is time for these groups to be honest with themselves and the Guyanese people.Is it true, as stated by these groups, “that the PSC, GCCI, GMSA, bankers, Indian Supremacists, accountants, lawyers and others who have illegitimately benefited under the PPP/C showing their true colours as they continue to sabotage our ‘democracy’ with the hope of again plundering Guyana with its newfound oil wealth”?Do these organizations — which include in their leadership Mr Eric Phillips and Tacuma Ogunseye, paid employees of the Ministry of the Presidency –represent the views of the masses of Afro-Guyanese? Certainly not!This jaundiced and unsubstantiated view must not be allowed to be peddled unchallenged. Afro-Guyanese, like all other peoples, have core values, and are guided by principles that are highly elevated beyond the mere lens of racism.I call upon all my fellow Afro-Guyanese brothers and sisters, and all other Guyanese, including my respected elders from the above-named groups, to be responsible, civil, and stay within the bounds of decency as we debate and engage on this very sensitive matter of the President’s unilateral appointment of the GECOM Chairman.Bishop Juan A Edghill,Former Chairman,Ethnic RelationsCommission