Demerara Assizes: Sexual offences matters constitute bulk of cases to be heard

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With the commencement of the first criminal session for 2019, statistics drawn from the lists of cases have outlined that nearly 61 per cent of matters were related to sexual offences with the majority being child victims.

At present, three Judges are on rotation at the Demerara Assizes, with Justices Navindra Singh and James Bovell-Drakes dealing with murder cases and Justice Jo-Ann Barlow at the Sexual Offences Court.

On the three lists, there are 253 cases and the current complement of Judges will not be able to hear all of the matters over the next three months.

154 cases are sexual offences while the remainder ranges from murder, attempted murder to manslaughter and the like.

During the last criminal session in the Demerara county, which ran from October to December, only seven per cent of cases were disposed – reflecting the need for an increased contingent of Judges to hear matters.

One of the listed cases slated for hearing is that of Muslim scholar Nezaam Ali, who has been accused of sexually abusing nine boys. Currently out on bail, he is facing multiple indictments for crimes allegedly committed between 2011 and 2012, including sexual activity with a child under 16 years and sexual activity with a child by abusing a position of trust.

Ali was first charged in 2013, but was only committed to stand trial before the High Court after the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Shalimar Ali-Hack was called upon to reopen the matter. In February 2017, Ali-Hack remitted the matter to Magistrate Alex Moore to re-open the paper committals.

Before the DPP remitted the matter; the defendant’s lawyer, Nigel Hughes, had filed in the High Court an action to have the committal overturned. This had been considered by the court, and it was ruled that the committal would remain. The mother of three of the boys was recently quoted in another section of the media calling for the matter to be heard as it has been almost nine years since the time of the initial allegations.

The need for more counselling to be done in sexual abuse cases was recently highlighted in a report from Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) ChildLink about child sexual abuse in Guyana. It was suggested that such services have been improved to help affected children recover.

The report reflected that in 2014, 3883 cases of child abuse were reported to the Child Care and Protection Agency (CC&PA) of which 628 (or 16 per cent) were child sexual abuse cases. In 2017, the CC&PA saw a total of 4179 cases of abuse reported, with 841 (20 per cent) of these being child sexual abuse. It was also found that in a period of three years (2014- 017) there was an increase of five per cent in reported cases of child sexual abuse.

ChildLink had further explained that in 2015 and 2016, the CC&PA received 676 and 734 reports of sexual violence, respectively constituting 15 per cent of the reported cases of abuse against children.

Child sexual abuse is when an adult or older child coerces, forces, or persuades a child into sexual activities, according to ChildLink, which describes the act as alarming and distressing since it causes trauma among other issues for a child.

The report suggested that with more counselling, child victims are being enabled and empowered to recount what happened to them. It was also noted that there was some improvement in the delivery of services to children who have been sexually abused.

It has been reported that since the launch of the Sexual Offences Court in November 2017 by the acting Chancellor and the Judiciary, there has been a successful prosecution rate of approximately 80 per cent in child sexual abuse cases that have made it to the specialised court at the High Court in Georgetown.

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