GUYANA: Children's Rights in the UN Special Procedures' Reports

Summary: This report extracts mentions of children's rights issues in the reports of the UN Special Procedures. This does not include reports of child specific Special Procedures, such as the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, which are available as separate reports.

Please note that the language may have been edited in places for the purpose of clarity.

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Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance
Report submitted by Mr.Doudou Diène,

Report published on 8 January 2004

Issues raised:

Youth participation: Meetings with young members of various associations - Rights of Children (ROC), the Lethem Young Achievers’ Club, Guyana Youth Development Association and the United Nations Association - gave cause for considerable hope of positive developments in the situation in Guyana. These youth groups, some formal, some informal, and generally multi-ethnic in membership, are making efforts to break through racial barriers by taking concrete action to encourage “living together”, and by reflecting on the various problems of Guyanese society and putting forward proposals. ROC, for example, launched a friendship campaign in 2000, which involved, among other things,  distributing posters, T-shirts and stickers calling on the Guyanese to take the “Race-Free Zone Pledge”, proclaiming their environment free of racial prejudice, attitudes and actions. It also conducted a survey of young people, published in July 2003, just before the Special Rapporteur’s arrival, that showed that 97 per cent had friends of other races and 60 per cent stated they had done something personally to improve racial harmony. Further, 61 per cent of young people believed that politicians and political parties have a major responsibility to improve race relations, and 42 per cent believed the same applied to the education system. The Lethem Young Achievers’ Club, in the south, on the border with Brazil, a group consisting mainly of mestizos, face up to slurs on their identity with confidence, humour and a desire to excel beyond prejudice. (Paragraph 35).

Minority groups: It is generally accepted that economic power is in the hands of the Indo-Trinidadians, while the Afro-Trinidadians are dominant in the administration and politics; however, in some sectors, such as the police and the oil industry, there is parity between the two groups. The Special Rapporteur heard allegations of discrimination in schools. Indian schools apparently tend to restrict enrolments by Afro-Trinidadians and to ban hairstyles considered to reflect a particular ethnicity (afros, dreadlocks, braids). Despite the widespread racial mingling, it seems that mixed Indian-African couples are subjected to enormous pressure from their families, particularly the Indian families. (Paragraph 48).

Freedom of religion: In recognition of the population’s ethnic and religious diversity, Parliament has also proclaimed the various communities’ religious festivals as public holidays. The Public Holidays and Festivals Act (chap. 19:05) officially recognizes the following festivals: Diwali for the Hindus; Eid-ul-Fitr for the Muslims; and Good Friday, Easter, Christmas and Corpus Christi for the Christians. Public holidays have also been proclaimed to mark days with historical significance for particular ethnic and racial groups, such as Spiritual Baptist/Shouter Day, Liberation Day and Emancipation Day for the Afro-Trinidadians and Arrival Day for the Indo-Trinidadians. Celebrating festivals and marking holidays in this way is an effective means of eliminating racist attitudes and promoting inter-ethnic understanding, tolerance and social harmony. Pupils in State schools are encouraged to put on shows to mark and celebrate the various holidays and festivals. There are also festivities outside the schools, across the country, which may include the depiction of historical events, artistic and cultural performances, and the sale of typical and traditional dishes and costumes. People from different ethnic groups and races take part, and thus have an opportunity to meet and get to know one another. (Paragraph 54).

Independent expert on minority issues

Report published on 27 February 2009
Visit undertaken 28 July – 1 August 2008

Issues raised:

Monitoring bodies: However, to date, only the Ethnic Relations Commission is functioning.10 The Indigenous Peoples’ Commission, the Women’s and Gender Equality Commission, the Human Rights Commission, and the Rights of the Child Commission have not yet been created. The National Stakeholder Forum convened by President Jagdeo in February and March 2008 identified the creation of these commissions as a priority for implementation by Parliament by 28 May 2008. (Paragraph 22).

The rights provisions of the Constitution and the legislative framework are enforced through the courts, and article 153 empowers the High Court to grant redress of proven allegations of rights denials. The Constitution also establishes an ombudsman office to investigate complaints of discrimination made by individuals. Article 212 of the revised Constitution also establishes five human rights commissions:12 the Human Rights Commission, Women and Gender Commission, Rights of the Child Commission, Indigenous Peoples Commission and the Ethnic Relations Commission. At the time of the visit of the independent expert, only the Ethnic Relations Commission had been fully established and was functioning. (Paragraph 29).

Education and minority groups: Considerable anger was expressed regarding the termination of the annual State subsidy awarded to Critchlow Labor College, which had been in place over the previous four decades. Critchlow Labor College provides “second chance” educational opportunities meeting the needs of predominantly Afro-Guyanese students, and has been seriously restricted in its activities and student intake. The annual subsidy reportedly amounted to some 48 per cent of the College’s operating costs. Its withdrawal has resulted in a dramatic fall in student intake, reportedly from about 2,600 (98 per cent of whom were Afro-Guyanese) to only about 200 students, and a 90 per cent reduction in staffing. Civil society groups expressed the opinion that termination of the grant is politically and racially motivated. (Paragraph 44).

Employment and training: The Government affirms that unemployment is not specific to Afro-Guyanese but results from a combination of various factors, such as the state of the economy and investments, continued reliance on primary products for export, educational levels and cultural norms. Labour force participation among the 15- to 64-year-old population is only 60 per cent. One of the reasons contributing to this has been the low participation of women in the formal labour force (only 37 per cent women versus 84 per cent men); however, this has not been found to be specific to any ethnic group. The Government notes that regarding the ethnic composition of the public service, the representation of Afro-Guyanese has reduced from 90 per cent to 70 per cent. In the Disciplined Forces other ethnic groups have always been in a minority, from the 1960s until present. It notes significant investment in education as well as in two major programmes fully financed for second chance opportunities for youth up to the age of 29, run by the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport, and the Ministry of Labour as well offers training and job placements for youth and youth at risk. (Paragraph 48).

Violence: Women spoke of a disturbing culture of domestic violence, often fuelled by poverty and unemployment and exacerbated by alcohol. One woman stated that: “It is simply true that as a society we believe in beating women and children.” They called for greater attention to tackling root causes and to long-term initiatives rather than simply devoting funding to policing and a justice sector which they felt consistently fails women. Participants described the courtroom as “a hostile environment for women” in which domestic violence and abuse cases are not treated seriously if they come to court at all. Some women noted a lack of consistency and focus in policies to address access to justice for women generally, in spite of the Domestic Violence Act. The Government notes a number of initiatives taken to reduce violence against women and children. It consulted countrywide and passed the Domestic Violence Act in 1997. A new comprehensive policy document “Stamp it out” on violence against women and children has also been taken throughout the country for examination and improvement. (Paragraph 54).



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