Press Relase: World Day of Social Justice
Marking World Day of Social Justice, celebrated on February 20 annually, leading Civil Society Groups highlight key recommendations from the recently-concluded review of Guyana’s obligations before the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Red Thread, Artistes In Direct Support (A.I.D.S.), Family Awareness Conscious Together (FACT) and the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) contributed a joint submission on sexuality and gender issues affecting children in Guyana to the review which took place in Geneva last month.
Field research for joint submission prepared by the groups found that many Guyanese children face a wide range of challenges such as poverty, violence, and lack of support from family and teachers, who have little understanding of the problems affecting them and often do not possess the skills to empower, but rather shun them when they seek support and guidance. Desiree Edgehill, Executive Director of A.I.D.S. reiterated," a major concern is contracting HIV, since we know that children are sexually active as early as 14 years old, according to the 2008/2009 Biological Behavioural Surveillance Survey done by the Ministry of Health.” In light of these issues CRC recommended that Guyana undertake targeted programmes for improving access to age- appropriate, HIV and sexual reproductive and health information and services among adolescents.
Additionally, CRC recommended that Guyana adopt a sex and reproductive health policy for adolescents and ensure that sex and reproductive education is widely promoted and targeted at adolescent girls and boys, with special attention to the prevention of early pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, HIV and sexual health services and information for children. “Children need comprehensive sex and sexuality education so that they can make informed decisions regarding their own healthy, sexual development and growth without the judgements and condemnations that are too often forthcoming from the adults around them. The education authorities must move to implement urgently the age appropriate HFLE programme that has been promised for so long" said Karen de Souza, National Coordinator of Red Thread.
The responses to sexuality and gender issues affecting children are severely constrained, which stems from cultural norms and attitudes which further weaken the support to children and youth specifically when it conflicts with norms and expectations of society. There is too little in place structurally to address the need to provide information and support to these children and youth who are grappling with questions and prejudices about sexuality and gender. When children encounter discrimination based on their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, the responses they receive from adults are often punitive, rather than educational. Many children therefore grapple with these issues without adequate support. Civil society organisations (CSOs) continue to advocate for the rights of all children and youth, and often provide refuge, in lieu of state protection, for children facing abuse, even with their very limited resources. Specifically, CRC requested that Guyana address discrimination against children based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
"We recognise that discrimination against children based on sexual orientation and gender identity is an issue we need to address not only by educating children, but also their parents, guardians, teachers and community leaders - the ones children turn to for help and support," said Anette Jaundoo, Project Coordinator of FACT. The four Civil Society Groups are calling on all Guyanese to play their role in protecting children’s rights; end discrimination against children based on sexual orientation, gender identity and other grounds and provide access to comprehensive sex and sexuality education. It is by removing barriers related to sexuality and gender like these, which impede children’s rights that social justice will be advanced in Guyana.