Women's Issues In Guyana

Sex offences law reform

Posted in Commentary by wiig on October 6, 2007
Tags: , , ,

Stabroek News Editorial – October 6, 2007

Finally! The archaic laws governing sexual offences are set to be reformed with drastic changes proposed throughout the entire Criminal Law (Offences) Act Cap 8:01 and with some new offences and harsher penalties recommended. The Ministry of Human Services and Social Security’s Consultation Paper on strengthening protection against and reforming the law on sexual offences provides the jump-start needed for this process. And the ministry hopes that stakeholders – the judiciary, NGOs and the wider community, including survivors of sexual violence – given that sexual violence affects us all, will respond to the paper by December 31, this year, since the sooner the debate begins and ends the sooner we can have the comprehensive modern legislation that is so desperately needed.

In some ways, the debate has already begun. The Guyana Human Rights Association’s (GHRA) 2005 study on sex offences was not just academic. The GHRA had been made aware of numerous instances of sexual violence. Its study might also have been undertaken as a means of drawing attention to what has become a crisis in our society. It should be noted that the ministry’s Consultation Paper includes several of the GHRA’s recommendations.

Launching the paper, titled ‘Stamp it Out’, on Thursday, Minister of Human Services and Social Security Priya Manickchand relayed the impression that this was an issue she and her staff were passionate about and that they were willing, if necessary, to drag the ancient legislation kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century, with, of course, the help of the wider community. The minister urged that lawyers and their associations, the wider judiciary, the NGO community and civil society, read and formulate responses to the paper. She gave December 31 as an ideal date by which the responses should be made.

One would think that it ought not to have been necessary for Minister Manickchand to make such a plea. Who, apart from rapists and paedophiles, would not want the legislation changed? Perhaps no one, but apathy and a general lack of urgency, particularly among those who we think should care the most, have seen many salient issues get left on the backburner or tossed aside until the last moment, when there is always a mad scramble.

The Consultation Paper addresses public education in terms of prevention of sexual offences as well as ensuring that persons who would have been raped, assaulted or otherwise preyed upon are made aware of their rights. It recommends instituting sexual assault referral centres at hospitals, bypassing police stations. This is critical, as some persons are, justifiably, wary of approaching the police with the sort of sensitive issues a sex offence report would entail. The paper also proposes special training for police officers, prosecutors, magistrates and judges. Special courts for sex violence cases, protecting the identity of the victims and mandatory in-camera hearings are also among the proposals.

The formation of a National Task Force and the instituting of National Policy Guidelines for sex violence victims, recognizing marital rape as an offence, use of forensics and extended penalties for the use of weapons in committing a sexual violence offence are also among the proposals.

The amended legislation would see a change in the definition of rape to include sexual assault on boys and men and the outmoded charge of buggery will cease to exist. Among the new offences to be added are: coercive sex, abuse of trust, obstructing prosecution (aimed no doubt at the adults who might want to prevent a child from giving evidence because they would have accepted compensation), voyeurism, and meeting a child following the grooming of that child. It also suggests outlawing that demeaning term “female idiot” and replacing it with “persons with a learning disability or mental disorder” and it ups the penalty for someone charged with rape in this instance from five years to life imprisonment.

The Consultation Paper is quite comprehensive and one would hope that it receives the necessary responses and in a timely manner. For the victims and survivors of sexual violence no doubt it could have come much sooner. Ms Manickchand did not give a timeframe within which she hoped to have the proposed changes made law, but perhaps, supposing her pleas have not fallen on deaf ears, a 2008 amendment of the Criminal Law (Offences) Act Cap 8:01 would not be impossible.


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