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World Day of Social Justice is Good Time for Reflection on Children’s Rights in Guyana

zenita_nicholson
Zenita Nicholson

By Zenita Nicholson, Guyanese mother, advocate and Secretary on the SASOD board of trustees

Annually, World Day of Social Justice is commemorated on February 20. This year, I feel the Day can be acknowledged by highlighting the monumental work of Guyanese groups advocating to advance human rights protections and social justice of all citizens, particularly our vulnerable children.  

 

 

Leading Guyanese non-governmental organisations, 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 by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) which took place in Geneva last month.  Representing SASOD, I was privileged to attend and observe the CRC review for Guyana. I was especially thrilled when the Committee specifically raised concerns about discrimination meted out to children based on their sexual orientation or gender identity; children’s ability and right to access information and comprehensive sex and sexuality education in schools: key issues we raised.

 

Further, when I read the recently-released concluding observations from CRC on Guyana, I was particularly pleased that there were significant recommendations on these issues. Specifically, CRC requested that Guyana address discrimination against children based on sexual orientation and gender identity. As a mother of two wonderful children, this is also a personal issue for me. I see the effects of homophobic bullying, teasing and taunting in schools and how it limits children’s expression and potential. Our young boys, especially, suffer the consequences. They are sanctioned by their peers for speaking properly, showing interest in the arts, music education or cooking, for example, because these ‘softer’ interests are considered ‘girly’ or not masculine enough to be accepted. I am hopeful that that the Government of Guyana will take concrete steps to address discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity because it is hidden, not talked about and our children suffer in isolation. Homophobia that exists in Guyanese society is just as much present in our schools and communities where our children socialize. Education is paramount to tackle this issue. It is important that our children are supported, particularly from the people they trust and love: their parents; their teachers; and also their peers.

 

Guyanese society is one in which talking about sex in a sober, constructive manner, is quite taboo. It is therefore not encouraged, or even permissible in many instances. Yet our children are initiating sex as early as 14 years old, according to the Ministry of Health’s Biological Behavioural Surveillance Survey (BBSS). I must acknowledge that despite these cultural barriers, the Government of Guyana is taking some steps to educate our children on sex using the Health and Family Life Education (HFLE) curriculum. However, the approach taken is a very limited one; preaching abstinence only, while many of our children are already sexually active, and teaching a very hetero-normative perspective which negates the existence of same-sex sexualities and is in itself discriminatory, leaving lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth in close-minded isolation to navigate their identities on their own. I could only imagine, but it must be a terrifying existence for them. CRC recommended that Guyana undertake targeted programmes for improving access to age-appropriate, HIV, sexual and reproductive health services among adolescents. All our children deserve and need this, not just the heterosexual ones.

 

CRC also 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 preventing early pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, HIV and providing sexual health services and information for children. It is imperative that inter-agency collaboration between the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education is pursued, particularly to deliver comprehensive sex and sexuality education in schools. As a mother I completely support children being given information on sex, sexuality, condoms, health safety and risks. The reality is that our children are having conversations about sex. But only they and God know what information they are receiving and whether it is accurate. Children will make decisions about sex, whether we approve or not, so it is therefore paramount that they are given accurate information so that they can assess their own risks and make informed decisions. This is the greatest love we can give to our children: empowerment and support to make their best decisions throughout every stage of their lives. After all, isn’t that the role of a parent?

 

The future belongs to our children and each of us individually and collectively must ensure equality; protection and access to information for them. Now is always the best time and so I encourage and challenge all Guyanese parents and caregivers to take up their role in protecting our children’s rights; end discrimination against children based on sexual orientation, gender identity and all other grounds. By removing barriers related to sexuality and gender like these, which impede children’s rights and disempowers our future generations, only then will social justice truly be advanced in Guyana.

 

To access all documents and reports related to the CRC’s review on Guyana, please visit the country page for the 62nd session of CRC on the UN website at: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/crc/crcs62.htm