by Vidyaratha Kissoon
“Good afternoon sir” one of the students said as they walked out from from the field to the school. There are two goals set up on the field. Some of the children have been kicking around a ball. Some of them had been looking at me looking at the goal posts.
The goal posts are firm in the ground. There is a net on one of them.
I wanted to swing on the crossbar like how six year old Gleansean Skeete must have done before the goalpost fell and killed him while he was in care of the school teachers.
The goal post feels firm in the ground.
Goals are usually good things, signs of achievement. Goal posts mark space out as goals.
In 2017 Guyana, the broken goal post on the ground in Plaisance marks the site of the death of a six year old child.
The broken goal post, in Child Protection Week, soon after the murder of Leonoard Archibald , marks the failure of not having the deep systemic committent to child protection.
Oil and gas cannot be the most important conversation in Guyana.
Do we really expect to do oil and gas right if we cannot look after our children?
People in Guyana have tried , especially in the last twenty years. There has been work on different ways to deal with child abuse and to increase reporting. The work though never seems to institutionalise into any meaningful change. Those in power to make the change seem to lack the political will to institutionalize . The political will to strengthen child protection initiatives is not there.
What could some of the child protection goals look like?
Accepting the Child is a person, and deserving of special considerations
Some people believe in the ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ philosophy, except it seems that it does not mean ‘Do unto children as you would have them do unto you’
Guyana’s Constitution says in Article 149 B (1) The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or equal protection and benefit of the law. Guyana signed on to the Convention of the Rights of the Child.
Some children in Guyana are exposed to the same risks as adults. A blog from the IADB about creating environmentally friendly mining includes photographs of children in some murky looking water and stark landscapes. The blog itself does not refer to the children.
Guyana though continues to beat children in its schools. Some religious bodies do not believe beating children is abuse. They might not approve of beating pastors and church leaders though.
The child while supposedly equal in law, is not really equal in culture. Good children must be obedient apparently even to abusive adults.
Accepting that you can’t beat children while thinking you can stop sexual and other forms of abuse
Teachers are duty bearers, given a role to protect and nurture children. The Guyana Teachers Union apparently is determined to keep beating the children they are supposed to protect. There is something wrong with the State which laments the death of children and marches and holds rallies for child protection but does nothing to stop the violence experienced by children in its care.
The President believes there is no place for corporal punishment in Guyana, the Director of the Childcare and Protection Agency (and maybe the Minister of Social Protection too?) believes that there is no place for beating children.
These beliefs though have not transformed into any real shifts to heal those teachers who think they need to beat children to retain power.
And in the brokenness, the teachers who like to beat children apparently continue to hold power over President Granger and the other officials who have good intentions but cannot seem to make those intentions real.
Accepting that it is possible for people to stop beating children
The woman is standing on the bridge of the private school where she teaches. It is a hot afternoon. A small child, is chatting with her as children do. The woman grabs the child’s bag, opens it, hits the child and sends her back for a bottle. I am not sure what to do so I turn back and stare at the woman. The child starts crying and goes back as the woman shouts after her.
I see the cleaner of the school a day after the incident. The cleaner and I talk about the incident.
The cleaner tells me to go and report to the owner of the school, that it was not right what the teacher did to her child.
I do not go to the owner of the school. I see the cleaner a few days after our conversation.
She tells me “You know, I told her that her behaviour is not right. She agreed with me. She said she saw you looking at her. She is a new teacher here. You should still go and tell the owner”
I said “Okay, I don’t need to tell the owner anything, you did the best thing”
Help & Shelter, ChildLink/Everychild Guyana , Red Thread and other NGOs have done work with adults on parenting, and parenting without beating.
Work was done to research attitudes with teachers, students, parents to understand the blocks to change.
People have changed their attitudes after unlearning abusive behaviour
The Guyana Teachers Union and the Ministry of Education can stop beating children in Guyana’s schools.. If they do not change, then we will not be able to move forward on protecting children in Guyana.
The Childcare and Protection Agency (CPA) seems to be the lone Government agency talking about breaking silence on child abuse. There is a glaring absence of the health sector, the Ministry of Education, the justice system especially as it relates to accountability for their roles. There are some one off events – like a seminar with some police officers.
The Guyana Police Force has not said anything yet about what is in place at the different stations throughout Guyana to deal with all forms of child abuse.
The CPA advocates Child protection is everyone’s business but the State agencies seem not to be able to undertake that business. The roles of the agencies outside of Georgetown and the urban centres would have to take into consideration all of the specifics of those areas which prevent interventions.
In 2007, Help & Shelter commenced work on trying to bring police, court workers, social workers, health workers together to work on sexual violence and domestic violence.
Protocols were developed. The Ministry of Health at the time did not want to get involved.
There is no policy committent from if the Ministry of Public Health in terms of how its employees and stakeholders engage in in child protection.
The intention is that the protocols are made public so that people know what to expect when they have to approach these agencies.
The protocols were never formally adopted as part of the official working of the agencies.
These protocols would help to form the basis to dealing with violations against children, and could ensure consistency throughout Guyana.
Reporting child abuse
There are anecdotes that more people are reporting child abuse. ChildLink Guyana has worked with other agencies to establish ‘One Stop’ child advocacy centres to support children who survived abuse at the start of the justice process. These seem to be working in the regions (3,4,5,6) where they have been set up.
The funding will hopefully continue from Government, and more centres will be established throughout Guyana.
The trouble though, seems to be that with the increased awareness and facilities to talk about child abuse, the court system is not coping.
The CPA said that they had 427 reports of child sexual abuse during the first half of this year. The CPA though, has not said how many of those cases have gone to court. In 2016, there were 734 cases. There are no reports of how many of those are in court.
The other goals which will be considered in Part 2 of this blog are :-
Implementation of child protection policies
The 24/7 Hotline for the Childcare and Protection Agency is 227-0979