In­dige­nous women, chil­dren still most dis­ad­van­taged group in Guyana - study

Stabroek News Sunday - - WORLD NEWS -

In­dige­nous women and chil­dren re­main the most dis­ad­van­taged group in Guyana, a re­cent study pro­duced by the United Na­tions Chil­dren Fund (UNICEF) in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Min­istry of In­dige­nous Peo­ples’ Af­fairs (MoIPA) has found.

The study was said to be mo­ti­vated by the find­ings of Guyana’s Sit­u­a­tion Anal­y­sis of Chil­dren (SitAn) 2016, which found that the health, ed­u­ca­tion and so­cioe­co­nomic in­di­ca­tors for the In­dige­nous pop­u­la­tion were among the worst in Guyana.

It is against this back­drop that the study, which is the first of its kind in both the Caribbean and Latin Amer­ica, seeks to in­form coun­try­wide, lo­cal and re­gional strate­gies, projects and pro­grammes that are aimed at the re­al­i­sa­tion of chil­dren’s and women’s rights as well as the em­pow­er­ment of in­dige­nous women, chil­dren and ado­les­cents.

In the Ex­ec­u­tive Sum­mary, which was pre­sented last Fri­day, it was noted that though in­dige­nous pop­u­la­tions may be “cul­tur­ally rich,” they hap­pen to be amongst the most “ma­te­ri­ally poor and so­cially ex­cluded peo­ple” in the Ama­zon re­gion.

Ac­cord­ing to UNICEF, In­dige­nous Peo­ples would ex­pe­ri­ence poverty at twice the rate and some­times even five times more than the non-in­dige­nous pop­u­la­tion. They are also less likely to ac­cess so­cial ser­vices and are suf­fer­ing from the ef­fects of en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion and cli­mate change on their health and well­be­ing.

It was also noted that the ac­cess to good qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion, health and other so­cial ser­vices by the In­dige­nous peo­ples con­tin­ues to be crip­pled by the lack of ac­cess to in­fra­struc­ture and mod­ern life fa­cil­i­ties to the same ex­tent of their coun­ter­parts re­sid­ing on Guyana’s coast­lands.

Among the dif­fer­ent is­sues re­lated to ed­u­ca­tion for in­dige­nous girls and boys, two were con­sid­ered to be the most cru­cial. First, while en­rol­ment in school is high at the pri­mary level, low num­bers are seen at the nurs­ery and sec­ondary lev­els.

How­ever, it was stated that only 53% of those who had been en­rolled into sec­ondary school ac­tu­ally com­plete the fi­nal years of sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion, as many drop out due to the in­ac­ces­si­bil­ity to schools, fi­nan­cial con­straints faced by fam­i­lies, as well as the per­cep­tion that ed­u­ca­tion is not nec­es­sary, among other rea­sons.

Guar­an­tee­ing the good qual­ity of ed­u­ca­tion at both the pri­mary and sec­ondary level for in­dige­nous chil­dren re­mains one of the main chal­lenges re­lated to ed­u­ca­tion in Guyana.

Ac­cord­ing to the study, the de­fi­cien­cies in the qual­ity of ed­u­ca­tion de­liv­ery in the hin­ter­land are said to be in­flu­enced by the lack of qual­i­fied teach­ers and re­sources such as books and learn­ing ma­te­ri­als; poor in­fra­struc­ture at schools, in­clud­ing build­ings which are old and lack com­put­ers and in­ter­net ac­cess; and lan­guage bar­ri­ers (although English is the of­fi­cial lan­guage of the coun­try and is taught in schools na­tion­wide, many in­dige­nous stu­dents strug­gle to speak and write in English).

Ad­di­tion­ally, the cur­ricu­lum that is drafted is said to be too fo­cused on top­ics that are not part of the re­al­ity of in­dige­nous chil­dren liv­ing in the hin­ter­land.

‘Stunted’

With re­gard to is­sues of health­care in the hin­ter­land, the study found that the nu­tri­tional sta­tus of in­dige­nous boys and girls in Guyana needs at­ten­tion, as it has been recorded as be­ing poorer than the na­tional av­er­age.

One in every four in­dige­nous chil­dren is, as the re­port stated, “stunted,” cre­at­ing se­ri­ous con­se­quences for their cog­ni­tive and phys­i­cal de­vel­op­ment.

While there is no spe­cific study that can be ref­er­enced to un­der­stand the pos­si­ble fac­tors that cause and, or in­flu­ence the poor nu­tri­tional sta­tus of in­dige­nous chil­dren in Guyana, the Mul­ti­ple In­di­ca­tor Clus­ter Sur­vey (MICS) of 2014 found fac­tors which can be ex­plored as a pos­si­ble cause, in­clud­ing the fact that 16% of in­dige­nous ba­bies are born be­low 2500g; anaemia is high among in­dige­nous women; the cost of food in the vil­lages is higher when com­pared to the coast; and the low in­take of nu­tri­ents among the in­dige­nous pop­u­la­tion.

In terms of dis­ease and in­fec­tions, the most com­mon ones were given as di­ar­rhoea, the com­mon cold and malaria. While these dis­eases have been linked to sea­sonal cy­cles, they are also in­flu­enced by low lev­els of nu­tri­tion, lim­ited ac­cess to im­proved sources of drink­ing wa­ter and the lack of san­i­ta­tion and hy­giene among chil­dren and adults.

Other is­sues of con­cern for the In­dige­nous peo­ples are the avail­abil­ity of med­i­ca­tion; low qual­ity of health care, poor wa­ter, san­i­ta­tion and hy­giene prac­tices; dif­fi­culty in ac­cess to health care; in­flu­ences of cul­tural fac­tors; and be­havioural health, among oth­ers.

Not far be­hind, are the is­sues of gen­der­based vi­o­lence, teenage preg­nancy and the low level of birth reg­is­tra­tion.

“Birth reg­is­tra­tion is the foun­da­tion of safe­guard­ing many of the child’s civil, eco­nomic, so­cial and cul­tural rights. Among dif­fer­ent so­cio-eco­nomic char­ac­ter­is­tics, the in­dige­nous chil­dren are those who have the high­est chance of not be­ing reg­is­tered at birth,” the study said.

This is said to be closely linked to the fact that many births oc­cur out­side of fa­cil­i­ties, as well as the dif­fi­cul­ties faced by the In­dige­nous peo­ples when try­ing to un­der­stand the bu­reau­cracy of the birth reg­is­tra­tion process.

Vi­o­lence

With re­gards to vi­o­lence, ne­glect and abuse against In­dige­nous women and chil­dren, the study stated that this spe­cific group are vic­tims of dif­fer­ent types of abuse, and that vi­o­lence against women, es­pe­cially sex­ual vi­o­lence, is not con­fined to homes.

“In the vil­lages vis­ited, stake­hold­ers men­tioned cases of abuse, sex­ual as­sault and rape against women within the bound­aries of their vil­lages. While it seems that vi­o­lence is more vis­i­ble in those vil­lages that are near min­ing ar­eas, in all vil­lages cases of vi­o­lence were re­ported,” the re­port said.

Touch­ing on the topic of in­cest, the study noted that it is not one that is openly dis­cussed in in­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties. Nev­er­the­less, re­spon­dents were unan­i­mous to men­tion that cases of in­cest take place among In­dige­nous peo­ples and they do not only in­volve fa­ther-daugh­ter abuse, but also sex be­tween sib­lings, and step­fa­thers and step­daugh­ters.

Ad­di­tion­ally, it was stated that though the po­lice claim that these cases are never for­mally re­ported, they are aware of such oc­cur­rences within the vil­lages they pa­trol.

Among the in­flu­enc­ing fac­tors given for the oc­cur­rence of vi­o­lence, ne­glect and abuse, three prom­i­nent ones were iden­ti­fied: the in­creased con­sump­tion of al­co­hol and other drugs, so­cial norms and be­liefs of the In­dige­nous peo­ples and the de­pen­dency and fear vic­tims have from per­pe­tra­tors, thus re­duc­ing the num­ber of cases that are re­ported to the po­lice.

Ex­pand­ing on the re­sponse to vi­o­lence and abuse, it was stated in the study that the po­lice as an in­sti­tu­tion is not present in all in­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties in Guyana. In

those vil­lages with­out po­lice pres­ence, it is the Toshao and vil­lage coun­cil who are left to as­sume the role of re­spond­ing and pre­vent­ing vi­o­lence in their com­mu­ni­ties.

How­ever, this is re­port­edly not with­out its chal­lenges since the Toshaos and vil­lage coun­cils do not have the nec­es­sary ca­pac­ity or knowl­edge to han­dle such cases.

In con­clu­sion, the study said though it is cer­tain that the in­dige­nous pop­u­la­tion in Guyana is cul­tur­ally and land rich, it is not enough to en­sure that all their rights are be­ing re­alised, es­pe­cially the rights of women and chil­dren.

“Qual­i­ta­tive data col­lected in the past years and qual­i­ta­tive data col­lected dur­ing, April, May and June of 2017 have shown that the in­dige­nous pop­u­la­tion in Guyana live in a deep vul­ner­a­bil­ity with his­tor­i­cal chal­lenges that are rooted in the so­cial, eco­nomic, ad­min­is­tra­tive and po­lit­i­cal struc­tures of the coun­try,” the re­port said.

It was also con­cluded that the sit­u­a­tion of the in­dige­nous women and chil­dren is backed by a se­ries of so­cial norms that in­flu­ence how other mem­bers of so­ci­ety be­have to­wards them.

Fur­ther, while some norms may not have harm­ful ef­fects, they are also one of the main bot­tle­necks pre­vent­ing these two groups from re­al­iz­ing their rights to the fullest ex­tent pos­si­ble.

With re­gards to leg­is­la­tion and poli­cies, it was noted that at the na­tional level, one of the main bot­tle­necks is the lack of com­ple­men­tary poli­cies for the in­dige­nous pop­u­la­tion and de­fi­cien­cies in im­ple­men­ta­tion of the cur­rent ones.

“While the Min­istry of In­dige­nous Peo­ples’ Af­fairs has some poli­cies, the other min­istries and agen­cies do not have any­thing spe­cific for the In­dige­nous peo­ples of Guyana. One of the prin­ci­ples of fight­ing in­equal­ity is to treat dif­fer­ently those that need to im­prove the most, that is, pub­lic poli­cies in all pos­si­ble sec­tors must be tar­geted for them and that is how other Min­istries in Guyana plan and im­ple­ment their poli­cies. At the cur­rent stage, it is not pos­si­ble to have the in­dige­nous boys, girls and women catch­ing up with the other eth­nic­i­ties in the coun­try with­out proper poli­cies tar­get­ing them,” the re­port said.

At the end, the one bot­tle­neck that cuts across all de­ter­mi­nants is the lack of qual­ity, as de­scribed through­out the re­port. The con­se­quences of the lack of qual­ity im­pacts in the over­all life cy­cle of chil­dren, from con­cep­tion to child­hood. Nev­er­the­less, the re­port stated that based on the ex­pe­ri­ence gained by vis­it­ing the vil­lages and con­sult­ing with stake­hold­ers in the field and in Ge­orge­town, one has to as­sume that so­lu­tions for the iden­ti­fied sit­u­a­tions (Keno Ge­orge photo)

must be cross sec­to­rial at the hori­zon level. That is, there is need for poli­cies and pro­grammes that tran­scend the bor­ders of the tra­di­tional min­istries and at the same time, be ver­ti­cal, ad­just­ing to how the de­cen­tralised governance in Guyana is set.

“Im­prov­ing the sit­u­a­tion of the in­dige­nous pop­u­la­tion in not only a his­tor­i­cal debt that the coun­try has to pay; more im­por­tantly, it is a strate­gic and con­scious move­ment to­wards cre­at­ing the con­di­tions for the sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment goals (SDGs) to be achieved in Guyana, send­ing to the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity the mes­sage that work­ing with the most vul­ner­a­ble pop­u­la­tion is pos­si­ble and pro­vid­ing the means for their so­cio- eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment re­sults in ben­e­fits for the over­all coun­try,” the re­port added.

UNICEF Per­ma­nent Rep­re­sen­ta­tive to Guyana and Suri­name Sylvie Fouet hand­ing over the Ex­ec­u­tive Sum­mary of the study on In­dige­nous Women and Chil­dren in Guyana to Min­is­ter of In­dige­nous Peo­ples’ Af­fairs Syd­ney Al­lic­ock on Fri­day.

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