Women's Issues In Guyana

Cruel and unusual

Chronicle – July 23, 2007

As was recently reported in the press, two young cousins – girls aged barely thirteen and fourteen – were recently remanded on the charge of wandering. The case gained media attention last week when it was reported that the girls, who had run away from their respective homes, were found underwear-clad in the company of several males. Accounts differ; but it is alleged that a female officer handcuffed the girls, paraded them down the streets of the village, cut off the synthetic braids both girls sported and then had a barber shave their heads on a bridge in the village.

In the case of the two young Mocha runaways, it baffles the mind how victimhood is somehow transmuted into criminality. If sexual activity was suspected, the girls – both under the age of consent – seem to potentially have been the victims of statutory rape.

Firstly, the question that has to be asked is why,when the girls were first discovered at the abandoned house, the young men in their company were not detained? Why wait until the girls were already in detention, and then put the burden of proof on them to identify the men? Why were the men not detained or questioned? In a village as relatively remote, small and secluded as Mocha, no doubt it would not have been difficult for the arresting officers to identify at the very least one of the young men who happened to be in the girls’ company at the time of their arrest.  

Then there is the public haircut that the girls were given. From all reports, it seems that both girls were against the removal of their braids and the shaving of their heads. There is no plausible explanation of how this act, regardless of who did the actual cutting or the proffered reasons, figures into the overall application of justice in this case. That counts not as cruel and unusual punishment, just – in light of no clear crime committed by the two young women – simply cruel and unusual.

The sort of public parading and humiliation of young girls detained for as flimsy a charge as wandering seems more suited to 17th century Salem, Massachusetts,than it does for 21st century Guyana. And even then and there, such actions constituted an anomalous travesty of justice. What seems sad in all this is that the sexual abuse that the girls are alleged to have suffered at the hands of close relatives seems to have been given tangential attention in this case.

We have to begin striving for a society that is more enlightened than the one we are living in today. Last year it was the case of the supposed mass possession of East Coast of Demerara school children; earlier this year it was beating to death of an ole higue. Now we have the public shearing of two young girls.

The most crucial areas of enlightenment just happens to be in our treatment of children, whether we are talking about the continuation of institutionalised corporal punishment in our school system, or the parading of two young runaways along a village street and a public humiliation by the shaving of their heads. If things continue in this vein, the generation we are supposed to be preparing for the future will in fact be prepared for the past.


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