by Vidyaratha Kissoon
‘Da luv her chirren.. she must have tripped out.. “ a woman from Bath, St Thomas, Jamaica said to the media. Da was arrested after some bystanders recorded her beating her daughter.
The bystanders shared the video on social media. Da’s community asked for mercy for Da. The women talking to the media told stories of their own experience of violence as children.
In this confusion over what is child abuse, what is violence and how to respond, children are expected to thrive.
There is mostly agreement that touching a child sexually deserves punishment.
There is strong belief that beating a child to cause marks and shame deserves mercy, counselling or maybe even no response, but no punishment.
A previous blog looked suggested the following goals for child protection :-
Accepting that the Child is a person deserving of special protections
Accepting that you can’t beat children while thinking you can stop sexual and other forms of abuse
Accepting that it is possible for people to stop beating children
Reporting child abuse
Other suggested goals are the implementation of child protection policies, transformation of the justice system and enabling healing for survivors.
Child protection policies
A Child Protection policy is a document which describes how an organisation, school, entity, community will actually move from talk to action about child protection in their sphere of influence. The policy document helps people to understand who is a child and the expected standards of behaviour towards children.
The policy implementation would require that people learn about child abuse and to challenge their own abusive behaviour towards children.
The preparation of the policy allows organisations, entities, schools, communities to work through how they will ensure people understand appropriate behaviour towards children.
The consideration of a child protection policy is a process which shows the level of work required to do actually do child protection. The assessment of individuals and facilities and systems gives a basis from which to start.
The policy describes how organisations and groups could deal with persons who violate the policy, allowing for the removal of any person who violates the policy.
The policy also describes how the groups would interact with the justice system if they discover violations of the policy which are in conflict with the law. It is legal in Guyana for teachers to assault children in schools.
Adult in organisations, entities or communities with sound child protection policies would not beat children.
Justice and child abuse
Kaieteur News carried an article reviewing the cases between June and September 2017 in the Demerara High Courts. The following extracts refer to the accounts of sexual offences against children.
The accused in one matter for the offence of rape of a child under 16 years was acquitted by the jury.
In two separate matters for the offences of sexual activity with a child family member and rape of a child under 16 Years, both complainants went into the witness box and informed the court that they did not wish to proceed with their matters.
In two matters for the offence of rape of a child under 16 years, the jurors returned majority verdicts of not guilty.
The prosecutions of Nine matters for the sexual offences of rape of a child under 16 years, rape, carnal knowledge of a girl under 15 years and sexual activity with a child family member were abandoned by the DPP. In one matter, the accused died. In three matters, the complainants indicated in written statements they did not wish to proceed with their matters and in the other five matters, the complainants could not be located despite police searches at their last known addresses and notices were published and aired for them to attend court.
So out of 13 trial cases of child sexual abuse where the accused are alive, there were 3 acquittals, while 5 persons withdrew their complaints and the other 5 complainants could not be found.
There were apparently NO convictions for child sexual abuse in the June 2017 sessions of the Demerara Criminal Assizes.
What does this mean? That the children did not experience sexual violence? Does it mean that the accused did not commit the offences? What are the reasons for refusing to proceed with matters or withdrawal of complaints? What does this mean for those police, social workers and others who have to work to build the cases?
The Childcare and Protection Agency had reported that there were 427 reports of child sexual abuse during the first half of this year. In 2016, there were 734 cases. How many of these cases will end up in Court?
There are no recent reports about how the other forms of child abuse are dealt with in the justice system.
A news report from Australia talks about the decrease in convictions in the District Court of New South Wales even though there was an increase in cases of child sexual abuse.
In September 2017, the Caribbean JURIST Project launched the Model Guidelines for Sexual Offences in the Caribbean .
The authors note that “The present approach by the justice system to persons who have been sexually assaulted in many cases, leaves the survivor with a sense of betrayal. Preliminary hearings, where untrained police or court clerks often lead evidence, frequently, if unwittingly, traumatize survivors of sexual assault. Personnel are often insensitive to the trauma that survivors and witnesses experience when they are forced to relive the crime during the investigation and prosecution of a criminal case, particularly while they are testifying in court. Delays in the criminal justice system also mean that survivors may experience this trauma over a span of several years.”
There are recommendations for the pre-trial and trial process. There are also guidelines for offender rehabilitation and management, including consideration of restorative justice. The guidelines note that there was input from some indigenous communities in Belize and Guyana. The guidelines though do not address the complexities of geography and whether there could different ways for indigenous communities to address justice without having to access courts which are sometimes hundreds of miles away.
It is not clear how these guidelines would used in Guyana and who is responsible for including them in the justice system.
Another project generationFive from the United States proposes a Transformative Justice approach – an idea which looks beyond incarceration. According to the handbook, “ransformative Justice seeks to provide people who experience violence with immediate safety, long-term healing and reparations; to demand that people who have done harm take accountability for their harmful
actions, while holding the possibility for their transformation and humanity; and to mobilize communities to shift the oppressive social and systemic conditions that create the context for violence.”
The German “Project Dunkelfeld” aims to treat persons attracted to children before they sexually abuse children. There are other projects which work on prevention and surveillance.
Adults who like beating children should have access to programmes which teach non-violent forms of interaction with children.
Healing for survivors
It is late one night . A man who has been inspirational in many ways is chatting about different things. I read his text messages as he talks about surviving abuse. We chat a bit about how he survived and how he feels now. The abuser is a family member who he still sees from time to time. The text chats are calm, he seems to state things without much emotion. He is doing okay he says. He could get help and he was a protector of his family. He had no choice but to survive. I was the first person he had told. A few months after our chat, he posted a school picture on social media. The picture of the serious faced boy shows no sign of the horrors he was dealing with. The pictures of the smiling relaxed face of the adult man show no signs of the secrets. We never talked about this afterwards.
A woman who is active and involved in her family and community life talks in another text chat about surviving abuse. The abuser is not within her life any more. She tells me she is okay, she does not need to talk to anyone or be in any support group. She understands the abuser no longer has power over her. She has a big smile and loud laugh. We never talk about this again.
There are other stories. Other men and women who survived, and who focussed on making their lives away from the abuse.
In all of them, the abuser has never seen a police station, court room or jail.
The survivors are on their own, being okay, sometimes talking , remembering and forgetting and not allowing the abuse of the past to hold them back.
Others talk about flashbacks. Some people have difficulty in relationships and try to make things work. Some have problems with the parents who knew and did nothing.
One man talked of the son of his abuser befriending him. He thought of revenge and then realised that he could not become the monster. He had to deal with all of this on his own.
Where then in Guyana does healing happen? In Leonard Archibald’s community, are the men who talked expected to just get on with it? Move on?
There is a shaming of the village ‘which knew’ and did not do anything. What does redemption look like for the villagers?
A woman said she had to pay $10,000 per hour for a counsellor in Guyana for a child in Guyana who had witnessed domestic violence. She wondered about those who could not afford those costs.
Who in Guyana is responsible for healing for the survivors of child abuse, especially those further away from Georgetown? Who is responsible for making Guyana a place fit for children?