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Civil Society Delegation reports on the human rights situation affecting youth in Guyana - Government commits to responding

A delegation of four young persons from various civil society member organisations of the Guyana Equality Forum (GEF) attended a thematic hearing of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on March 22 in Washington, DC to present on the human rights situation affecting young persons in Guyana. First Secretary and Alternate Representative to the Organisation of American States, John Chester-Inniss attended on behalf of the government as State Representative.

Led by Social Change Coordinator of SASOD and Coordinator of the GEF, Jairo Rodrigues; the delegation comprised of Trans Rights activist, Twinkle Bissoon of Guyana Trans United (GTU) and SASOD; Kobe Smith, Vice-President of Guyana Responsible Parenthood Association’s Youth Advocacy Movement (GRPA’s YAM); and Neketa Forde, Trustee of the Guyana National Youth Council (GNYC).

Margarette May Macaulay, First Vice-President of the IACHR and Country Rapporteur for Guyana, along  with Second Vice-President of the IACHR and Rapporteur on the Rights of Children and Young Persons, Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño, represented the Commission at the hearing.

The GEF delegation presented on rights abuses against young persons in Guyana, primarily on the lack of implementation of policies and laws that would develop youth in Guyana, protect young people’s rights and citizen security in the state with emphasis on  the deficiencies of Guyana's new National Youth Policy in addressing these rights abuses against young people.

Twinkle Bissoon addressed issues affecting youth due to discriminatory laws and open prejudice in society which encourages homophobic and transphobic bullying in schools, a cause for many LGBT students to drop out and end their education prematurely; these disadvantaged youth who may not necessarily receive the support from their families are driven into poverty to fend for themselves and some come into contact with the law, turn to sex work and suffer disproportionately to realize their right to work. LGBT youth face marginalization and challenges accessing health care due to expressive, non-conforming sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) and the lack of security and protection from the state.

Kobe Smith spoke of the need to for Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) in schools due to the high rate of teenage pregnancy, sexual acts performed by teenagers and the general lack of knowledge on sexual health based on a 2015 survey conducted by the GRPA. He posited that the publicly-funded and implemented abstinence-only Health and Family Life Education (HFLE) programme, ignores young people’s basic human rights to the highest attainable standard of health by denying them critical life-saving information and the fundamental public health principle of accurate, balanced sex education. He further called for the government to implement policies to encourage adolescent mothers and teenage mothers to continue their secondary education.

Neketa Forde of the GNYC drew attention to cases of police brutality, bullyism and state shortcomings against youth in the penal and judicial systems of Guyana; she called for an action-oriented youth policy and one revised with further consultations with stakeholders to bridge many of the gaps found. While, the policy recognizes that LGBT youth are underserved, it does not show how to address those issues. It goes on to reference equity for youth but does not discuss pregnant adolescent mothers and their reintegration into schools or non-discrimination against LGBT students. The document mentions sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) but there are no commitments to giving support and resources needed to alleviate the plights of LGBT youth. Also found in the policy, Priority 1 on Youth Identity and Empowerment is supportive of educating citizens about the differences in class, ethnicity and culture but does not include SOGI. While Education Reform is mentioned, this reference does not expressly include CSE.

Commissioner Macaulay commended the delegation for a well-researched and thorough presentation. Speaking of her pride for the young delegation, she responded to the issues stating that young persons are struggling to find their true identities and to live a life of proper dignity which can be difficult and it is the responsibility for the state to ensure protection of the rights for all its citizens especially in regards to CSE, the Ministry of Education’s policies on the treatment of students by teachers, and the treatment by police officers and state officials against vulnerable youth and youth in contact with the law.

(l-r) Commissioners Margarette May Macaulay and Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño

In this regard she called for Guyana to sign on and ratify the Organisation of American States (OAS) conventions against racism, racial discrimination and all forms of intolerance which will give some protection for points raised in the thematic submission by the petitioners.

First Secretary of Guyana’s Mission to the OAS, John Chester-Inniss, spoke of Guyana’s commitment to the international agreements made and the obligation the state has to honouring these agreements. He said the government has taken note of the petition brought forward and intends to respond with the view of addressing each issue. In past thematic hearings at which the GEF presented in 2013 and 2015, the previous administration was represented by Ministers of Government and responded to petitioners at the hearings. This is the first time, under the new administration, that a high-level official did not attend and present on behalf of the State. 

First Secretary of Guyana’s Mission to the OAS, John Chester-Inniss