CRC 35th session: Review of initial report of Guyana



UNITED NATIONS
Press Release
14 January 2004

--------------------------------------------------------------------

xxxxxxxxxxCOMMITTEE ON RIGHTS OF CHILD REVIEWS INITIAL REPORT OF GUYANA
xxxxxxxxxx


The Committee on the Rights of the Child today considered the initial
report of Guyana on how that country was giving effect to the
provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Introducing the report, Bibi Safora Shadick, Guyana's Minister in the
Ministry of Labour, Human Services and Social Security, said the
Government was resolved to ensure that the rights of the child would
continue to be the guiding principle on which all activities relating
to the care, protection and welfare of children were based.

Ms. Shadick said there was ongoing concern about the many
difficulties and challenges faced by the indigenous Amerindian
children, who, because of their remote location, often did not
benefit from the same facilities as their peers on the coastland.
There were, however, systems in place that attempted to compensate
for those situations, for instance, scholarships to secondary and
vocational schools in the city, she added.

In preliminary concluding remarks, Ghalia Mohd Bin Hamad Al-Thani,
the Committee Expert who acted as country rapporteur to the report of
Guyana, said the concluding observations that the Committee would
issue would reflect what had been discussed today. The economic
difficulties of the country and the geographical inaccessibility of
some of the regions would be taken into consideration while drafting
the conclusions.

The Committee will release its formal, written concluding
observations and recommendations towards the end of its three-week
session on 31 January.

Also representing Guyana were Yvonne Stephenson, Information
Resources Manager; and Mike Hamid, Assistant Project Offices
(Health).

Guyana is among the 192 States parties to the Convention and as such
it is obligated to present periodic reports to the Committee on its
efforts to implement the provisions of the treaty.

When the Committee reconvenes at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 14 January, it
will take up the second periodic report of Armenia (CRC/C/93/Add.6).



Report of Guyana

The initial report of Guyana (CRC/C/8/Add.47) provides an overview of
the situation in the country concerning the implementation of the
provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. In keeping
with the National Plan of Action for the development of children, a
number of activities have been initiated in the areas of health and
education.

The report says that one of the biggest challenges currently facing
Guyana in the protection of children is HIV/AIDS and its increasing
prevalence. Death of parents from this virus is resulting in more
orphans.

While the Government has embraced the Convention and is committed to
its full implementation, it recognizes that more has to be done in
order to achieve that goal. This is seen as an ongoing challenge that
has been accepted by the Government in its determination to protect
the rights of children and to ensure their development.

Further, the report notes that despite its enormous natural
resources, fertile lands, mineral deposits, forestry resources and
favourable climactic conditions, Guyana for the last two decades has
remained one of the poorest countries in the Caribbean. Guyana
continues to be burdened by its weighty external debt and
debt-servicing costs, which account for a high portion of its budget,
and this has severely restricted its ability to deal adequately with
the problem of poverty in the society. Women and children continue to
make up a significant part of the vulnerable population.


Presentation of Report

BIBI SAFORA SHADICK, Minister in the Ministry of Labour, Human
Services and Social Security of Guyana, reassured the Committee of
her Government's resolve to ensure that the rights of the child would
continue to be the guiding principle on which all activities relating
to the care, protection and welfare of children were based. While the
report recorded an appreciable degree of progress in the Government's
effort to respond to the requirements of the Convention, it was fully
aware of the number of constraints and challenges which were to be
faced in pursuit of its goals.

The Government had always considered its people as being its most
valued resource and children had historically occupied a special
position, the Minister said. Their well-being had been, and would
continue to be, of major concern to the Government.

Ms. Shadick said that in the area of juvenile justice, while her
country had not yet fully met the international standards, it
continued to pursue this goal. With regard to corporal punishment,
which was a much-discussed issue, she said that it was administered
in schools but only in extreme cases. When applied, it was carried
out under controlled circumstances, in accordance with the Education
Act. That situation would be reviewed as the requirements of the
Convention continued to be addressed. Corporal punishment in the
home, when considered to be extreme and resulted in harm to the
child, might be deemed as child abuse and was subject to remedies
under the criminal law.

There was ongoing concern about the many difficulties and challenges
faced by the indigenous Amerindian children, who, because of their
remote location, often did not benefit from the same facilities as
their peers on the coastland, Ms. Shadick said. There were, however,
systems in place that attempted to compensate for those situations,
for instance, scholarships to secondary and vocational schools in the
city.

Ms. Shadick said that in its thrust towards securing the protection
and development of its children, the Government had been ever mindful
of the wider social environment occasionally beset by political
instability and other problems which impinged on the lives of
children. Special consideration had therefore been given to poverty
alleviation measures, housing, safe water, and health and nutrition
programmes, all of which had been formulated and were being delivered
within the context of the constraints which the country faced.

A devastating development to be noted was the issue of the HIV/AIDS
pandemic which had beset the country, the Minister said. A continuous
rise in the epidemic had been reported and it was affecting both
children and the economy. The estimated prevalence of the infection
among the general population was reported to be 2.5 to 5.5 per cent,
but given the size of Guyana's population, that was a significant
figure. (In 2000, the population of Guyana was estimated at 800,000).

Concluding, the Minister said that notwithstanding the challenging
social environment, the Government had been steadfast in its efforts
to pursue its goal of improving the quality of life of its children,
with continued support from the United Nations Children's Fund
(UNICEF).


Discussion

GHALIA MOHD BIN HAMID AL-THANI, the Committee Expert who served as
country rapporteur to the report of Guyana, said that the State party
had not yet ratified either of the two Optional Protocols to the
Convention or The Hague conventions relating to the rights of the
child. Although the report was submitted after a nine-year delay, it
dealt with many of the problems frankly. She wanted to know how the
report had been prepared, and if non-governmental organizations and
children themselves had been involved in its preparation.

Ms. Al-Thani asked the delegation how the provisions of the
Convention were disseminated. Was it translated into various
vernaculars, and were training sessions and seminars provided? She
asked if appropriate measures had been taken in the field of data
collection on children, which was lacking in the report.

Another Expert asked about the roles of the various institutions
dealing with children and if their work was overlapping. She also
asked about the functions of the forthcoming constitutional
commission on the rights of the child. Had the Government evaluated
the achievements made following the implementation of the five-year
national plan of action for children? What measures had been taken to
harmonize the provisions of the Convention and children's bills?

An Expert said that the State party did not have a general rule on
attainment of majority age. The end of compulsory schooling was fixed
at 15 but children under 14 were employed. The age for sexual consent
for girls was maintained at 13 years; what would happen if such an
act took place with a girl under 13?

Turning to indigenous children, another Expert asked if Amerindians
and other indigenous children were discriminated against in terms of
access to health services, education and other basic needs.

Referring to the burden of the external debt of the State party, an
Expert asked if the Government had, within its national plan of
action, made attempts to reform its budget structure in order to
guarantee adequate allocation to health and education.

In Guyana, 88 per cent of Amerindian children were living in poverty,
another Expert said. Because of the increased poverty situation in
the rural areas, Amerindian girls and children moved to urban areas
where they worked as domestic labourers, bartenders and even as
prostitutes.

An Expert said that Guyana's rule of law had been weakened because of
the prevailing problems the country was facing. The administration of
justice was also on the verge of being dysfunctional, resulting in
negative consequences on the juvenile justice system. The delegation
was asked to provide further information on those issues.

Responding, the delegation said that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,
in consultation with other ministries, was actually preparing the
ground for the ratification of a number of treaties. The country,
since it became independent, had been carrying out legislative
reforms on various issues.

The delegation said that the Government's reporting system was slow.
However, it was trying to improve the situation by increasing human
and financial resources. While preparing the report under
consideration, 93 different groups had participated, including
children.

The provisions of the Convention were widely disseminated within the
national plan of action for the rights of the child, the delegation
said. A number of seminars were also organized on children's rights,
involving teachers and officials dealing with child rights.

The majority of Amerindian children were not registered at birth
because of the remote location of their homes, the delegation said.
However, new initiatives had been taken to encourage parents to
register newborns.

Through the use of computers, the Government was improving its data
collection on children, the delegation said.

Guyana's Amerindians lived in the forest and other remote areas where
they depended on hunting and fishing, the delegation said. Many of
the areas where they lived were accessible only on foot, and it might
take a week to reach some of their villages. About 70 per cent of the
Amerindians lived in sometimes-inaccessible hinterland and riverain
communities. They were widely dispersed and some settlements could be
accessed only at a very high cost of air transport. The Ministry of
Amerindian Affairs was working in close collaboration with other
ministries to coordinate services provided by the Government to the
Amerindians.

There were nurseries and primary schools in all of the Amerindian
communities with residential secondary schools within access, the
delegation said. Education programmes, funded by UNICEF in two
regions, had had a measure of success in those communities.

The Committee Experts continued raising further questions on such
issues as the situation of disabled children; the non-distribution of
anti-retroviral medication to child victims of HIV/AIDS; the rate of
illiteracy among the population; the situation of breastfeeding; the
quality of education and the rate of dropouts; the training of
teachers and upgrading their capacity to teach; the low school
enrolment of boys in some areas; violence among the youth; the
situation of street children and placement institutions, among other
things.

Responding, the delegation of Guyana said that the HIV/AIDS pandemic
was not a problem among the Amerindian indigenous peoples. It was
rare to find an Amerindian who was HIV-positive.

Many international organizations, including the United Nations
Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Children's Fund
(UNICEF), were working in the social and health fields in Guyana, the
delegation said.

In order to fight malaria, the Government was distributing quinine
and nets to people in areas infected with malaria, the delegation
said. The Government bought the nets from local people who made them.
In the Amerindian society, a girl who reached puberty was considered
to be an adult and could cohabite with a man, the delegation said.
However, the age of attainment of majority in Guyana was 18 years.
Reacting, an Expert asked why teenage pregnancy was lower among
Amerindians if a girl at the age of puberty could live with a man, to
which the delegation said that the problem of teenage pregnancy was
manifested within the school system and not in the society as a
whole.

Incest was a growing problem within Guyana's society, the delegation
said. Drug abuse and drunkenness in the family were among the main
sources for incidents leading to incest. In the event that such cases
were reported to the police, the perpetrators were criminally
responsible for their acts.

Alluding to the remark made by an Expert on the administration of
justice being "dysfunctional" and affecting the juvenile judicial
system, the delegation said that the system functioned well contrary
to the Expert's assertion.

The task force created to investigate the increase in the number of
street children had concluded that many of them were school dropouts
who had been unable to get jobs because they did not have birth
certificates, the delegation said. Others gave myriad reasons that
prompted them to live on the streets.

Because of cultural reasons, some parents hid their children who were
disabled until neighbours or others discovered them by coincidence,
the delegation said. The Government had been providing assistance and
vocational training to children with disabilities in order to
integrate them into the society.

Three baby-friendly hospitals in the country were promoting
breastfeeding by encouraging mothers to continue to breastfeed their
babies, the delegation said. A four-month maternity leave with pay
was granted to working mothers. Leave without pay could also be given
to mothers who wished to extend their maternity leave.

Responding to a question on juvenile legislation, the delegation said
that juveniles under 17 years were not sent to prison but to
rehabilitation centres. Children found guilty of legal offences could
also be sent to the "New Opportunity Call" centre for rehabilitation.
The Government was envisaging amending the law on juvenile justice.

Referring to a report released by the International Labour Office, an
Expert said that the number of incidents of child labour had
increased in Guyana despite the country's ratification of the
International Labour Organization Convention No. 182. The delegation
said that no child was working at the expense of his or her
education. However, in some rice and wheat mills, children could be
found working with their families.


Preliminary Concluding Remarks

GHALIA MOHD BIN HAMAD AL-THANI, the Committee Expert who served as
country rapporteur to the report of Guyana, said she had been
impressed by the effort of the head of the delegation to provide
information to the Committee. She said the concluding observations
that the Committee would issue would reflect what had been discussed
today. The economic difficulties of the country and the geographical
inaccessibility of some of the regions would also be taken into
consideration while drafting the conclusions.

Ms. Al-Thani said the Committee had taken note of the new monitoring
mechanism and the plan to set up a coordinating mechanism by Guyana.
The practice of corporal punishment was a concern to the Committee
and it would like to see action taken to deal with the issue,
including a change in public attitude. Another concern was that
children with disabilities were excluded and marginalized from the
society without having access to health services and education. The
Committee would also like to see that concrete action was taken to
address the problem of HIV/AIDS. The Committee's concern about the
situation of Amerindians would also be reflected in the final
conclusions.


Concluding Remark by Delegation

BIBI SAFORA SHADICK, Minister in the Ministry of Labour, Human
Services and Social Security, thanked the members of the Committee
for their interest in her country's children. She noted that
legislation came faster than practice. Attitudes did not change
rapidly and some things might take more than a generation for a
complete change. Economic difficulties were another factor hampering
people from ensuring all rights to children.




--
The "child-rights" mailing list provides information on issues related
to children's human rights. Archives of "child-rights" messages, as well
as instructions on how to (un)subscribe to the list, can be found at:
http://www.hrea.org/lists/child-rights/markup/maillist.php


[Reply to this message] [Start a new topic] [Date Index] [Thread Index] [Author Index] [Subject Index] [List Home Page] [HREA Home Page]