Sexual offences dominate consultation with religious bodies
Kaieteur News – January 24, 2008
While some police officers do an excellent job at assisting rape victims, there are others that do ‘very crappy’ work, says Minister of Human Services and Social Security, Priya Manickchand.
The Minister was at the time speaking with religious leaders from different organisations, who turned out in their numbers yesterday to be part of the ‘Stamp It Out’ consultation hosted at the Ethnic Relations Commission.
She says that some police officers ask victims all sorts of ‘foolish’ questions, intimidating them even as they are making their report.
The Minister says that there are deficiencies with both the police and judicial systems when it comes to dealing with issues of rape. After a brief presentation by the Minister, members from the various organizations made their contributions to the proposal to strengthen protection against sexual violence.
Attitude change, Minister Manickchand noted, is very necessary in Guyana’s society.
One religious leader, Pastor Kwame Gilbert, told the gathering that in order for there to be changes there must be systems in place to deal with the minds of those who commit sexual offences.
He noted that the punishment for such offence should be greater once a child is involved. Pastor Gilbert also raised the issue of wives being raped by husbands.
This prompted Minister Manickchand to point out that women are no longer chattel of their husbands, as was perceived in years gone by. Pandit Y. Singh suggested that, in the proposal, the Minister should make provisions for making the offence of rape a mandatory charge with no choice of a settlement.
Pandit Krishna Persaud noted that there must also be a mandatory minimum penalty for rape. But, according to another pastor, the mandatory minimum sentence can only be a reality if there is an aggressive parole system.
The Minister noted that, within the proposal, there is a section that states that the offence of rape must carry a mandatory charge for the rape of children. There is no chance for an out-of-court settlement. Adults, she added, have their own choices, according to the proposal.
Even as the discussion heated up, another pastor suggested that ‘Stamp It Out’ should be taken to schools as part of the Social Studies programme.
The female pastor added that children should be taught to understand that they need to respect each others’ privacy. Twenty-five years, she added, should be the minimum sentence for a rape conviction. This would send a message, she added, to others who may be tempted to commit such an act.
There were some concerns raised about women who are seeking divorce to use the offence of rape as a weapon against men. But according to Minister Manickchand, from her experience as a defense counsel, women in Guyana who are sexually assaulted in marriages rarely want it to be mentioned in their petitions.
“I have seen cases where women related how they were sexually violated during their marriages but did not want it to be mentioned in their petition for divorce,” the Minister said.
Another issue that was raised was the fact that moral education has failed Guyana’s society and, as such, religious education needs to be introduced in schools. This, however, was debated for quite a while by the participants, who disagreed with the suggestion. Their arguments were that many of the persons who rape do have religious knowledge some time or the other in their lifetime.
The Ministry of Human Services launched the ‘Stamp It Out’ consultation paper last September with the aim of reforming the law on sexual violence to strengthen protection, and to improve support and services for victims, whilst at the same time upholding the right of the defendant to a fair trial.
Some of the proposed changes are the abolition of Preliminary Inquiries, the introduction of integrated service hospitals, and the establishment of a Sex Offences Court.
The Ministry hopes to table the draft document by March 2008.