Women's Issues In Guyana

Revamp of sex offences laws begins

Posted in Legislation by wiig on October 5, 2007
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Stabroek News – October 5, 2007

Kicking off the reform of sex offences laws, Human Services Minister Priya Manickchand yesterday said the system is failing victims of sexual violence because the laws in the country are archaic.

In order to strengthen protection against and punishment for sexual violence, the Ministry of Human Services has put out a consultation paper titled ‘Stamp it Out’ as a first step to reforming the law.

The minister, noting that society has changed over the century since the laws were first drafted, said it was essential for a new piece of legislation to be passed that takes cognizance of such changes.

Her comments came yesterday at the launch of a consultation paper, which deals with a comprehensive review of law and policy on sexual offences, and sets out proposals aimed at reforming the law, strengthening protection and improving support and services for victims.

Emphasizing that sexual violence is the most widespread and unpunished of crimes, Manickchand told reporters that the ministry was committed to ensuring that the reforms are not just made on paper but put into practice. She said stakeholders at every level would be consulted before a Sexual Offences Bill is drafted.

Over the next three months, the ministry will dedicate time to holding countrywide consultations and though no deadline has been set, Manickchand pointed out, “we do not intend to consult forever and are looking at December 31 as a possible deadline”.

Some 200 copies of the consultation paper have been sent out and according to the minister, they are hoping to hear from everyone, particularly stakeholders who have worked extensively in the area. She said they want to hear from those involved in criminal justice including police officers; prosecutors; magistrates and judges. Additionally, they are seeking the views of academics, health and welfare service providers, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and community groups but more importantly, they hope to hear from survivors of sexual violence and their families.

“This is the first step on a long road but sexual violence can be stamped out. It is happening in our homes and in our communities and government action alone is not enough, a collective effort is needed involving all sectors of society,” the minister added.

Using data from various studies conducted locally including those done by the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA), the consultation paper covers action against sexual violence. It looks at reforms that relate to child sex abuse, measures to assist child witnesses and prevention strategies; it addresses Amerindian girls and women and also looks at procedures from reports being made, to charges being filed to medical services and court cases.

Background information provided in the paper reveals that approximately one percent of rapes that are reported to the police result in a conviction; 69 percent of victims are 16 years and under; one in five perpetrators are related to the victim and more than two-thirds of sexual offences take place in the home of the victim or the accused.

Issues such as women being ashamed to report sexual assault and that some are judged to be responsible for the violence they have suffered are mentioned in the paper. The research found that a level of male violence is widely tolerated, reducing support for women who might otherwise report the criminal offences against them.

Sexual violence against children locally is recognized in the consultation paper as an area where the numbers are increasing and among the suggestions are better coordination between the services particularly social services, health, education and the police.

Inadequate access to court and to other services in remote areas and issues of discrimination and prejudice are among those to be addressed in Amerindian communities. The ministry said it is hoping for full participation in the consultation by Amerindian communities so that initiatives and proposals for reforms can be developed.

Proposals are made in the paper for the marital rape exemption to be abolished. Additionally it proposes to expand sexual offences to include abuse of a position of trust and seeks to protect boys by including new gender-neutral definitions of rape and child sex offences and an age of consent for boys.

The proposal states that in line with reforms around the world, the definition of rape would be widened to include penetration of the vagina or anus by any body part (including the penis) or an object, including where the victim is not sure what penetrated her/him.

As it relates to reports, investigations and charges, the proposal includes support and discussions where the victim wants to retract a statement; a mandatory charge for child sex offences; the final decision to discontinue investigation resting with the DPP and new, more comprehensive medical certificates for better care and evidence among others.

Further, proposals are made for the country to move to a system of paper committals in sex offence cases quashing the Preliminary Inquiry unless the defence makes no case submissions or the defendant is unrepresented; the establishment of a Sex Offences Court with a specially assigned judge, in the same way as the Commercial Court and many public awareness and education campaigns among others.


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