(Originally published in Guyana’s Stabroek News on 25 June 2011)
Here is the next question I posed to the three main presidential candidates on women’s issues. I view this question to be especially telling in how much we can expect the candidate to protect the young girls of the nation.
Tell me, what is your view of older men who seek out girls under the age of 18 for sexual relations?
PPP/C Presidential Candidate Donald Ramotar
First of all, I think it is extremely immoral. Extremely immoral. Most of these relationships are sometimes exploitative relationships. I am very much opposed to it. I know we have a law of consent at the age of 16, but I think it should be frowned upon in the society even if the person is above 16.
If you have much older men preying on women in this regard, I am sure this is something we should frown upon in our society. We should discourage and expose these issues. If the relationship is exploitative, then the law can take its course. My own view is that it is immoral.
AFC Presidential Candidate Khemraj Ramjattan
There are men who are perverts. There are men who absolutely have no morality. I put into that category men who are old – like that – going after minors, because I say under 18 are minors. It is abominable in this modern age.
But of course, as I mentioned in my first answer, [because of] the culture of Guyana, wealthy older men feel that they can have any amount of young girls. Generally, that is proscribed in other societies because of the education levels of those men and their moralities. But in Guyana, it seems if you got the money, you pay for them.
And some of these girls, too, because of their education levels, they feel they can do their relations with these men and make a quick buck. Sometimes they can make more than big bucks, because I’ve seen young girls become pretty well off indulging in all these kinds of behaviours. Only, of course, for a short, temporary period of time and then they are left on their own and would have then been marred for life thereafter.
But these men, we have to do something about them. First of all, when they are caught and it is a non-consensual relationship, they should face the full brunt of the law. Very many of them don’t in Guyana. They pay the policemen off. They pay the prosecution off. They sometimes pay the jurors off. Even when they get caught and go to jail, they break out of the prison. So the deterring factors are not there, the deterring circumstances are not there to discourage it. That is why men of that calibre perpetuate and continue these wrongs. In my book, they are immoral. They are perverts.
PNCR Presidential Candidate David Granger
(Small portions of this interview were edited out for space)
Men in Guyana, and to some extent, men in the Caribbean – to the extent that I have experienced – have inherited a certain cultural tradition. Their behaviour is strongly influenced by their peers and by their fathers. I think, to that extent, if you regard their behaviour as predatory, it is something they learn. It is learned behaviour.
I cannot say what spurs that, but again I come back to the way men are educated. If society promotes images of nubile women in terms of advertising, in terms of shows, in terms of fashion contests and so on, that is the image that people grow up with. There are magazines and fashions shows and so on, and people see these images repeatedly and that is the image of what is regarded as a desirable mate. What I feel society must do is try to reduce the frequency with which these images bombard the public.
I have been in all ten regions in my campaign and cultural presentations were arranged and some of them were very beautiful. There were girls in beautiful dresses dancing and reading poetry and so on. These were very satisfying and very attractive. But I went to another function at Linden and some dance was put on and some very young girls came out in costumes that were suitable for swimming rather than dancing in a public full of men.
And so, coming back to the question, putting the images of very young girls dancing in a very provocative way in front of a huge audience – because it was at the start of Linden Town Week – I think you are begging for trouble…When young men see those things, they get excited. So I think that is a factor. I am not blaming women.
(At this point, I asked if there was no responsibility on the man’s part to control those urges.)
My view is that it is a social responsibility to both educate the males and to dissuade teachers or parents from allowing their daughters to perform like that in public. It’s not one-sided alone. But what I’m saying is that my own experience is that young males who are encouraged to go after girls – even when they are young – when they [males] grow up, they continue going after the same images that excited them in their adolescence. It doesn’t really come to an end and they just keep on that track for much of their adult life because that is what they were taught to do when they were young. And people learn their lessons when they are young.
I’m an Anglican. I was an Anglican since I was born, I was baptised, and I’ll remain Anglican until I die because that is what I grew up with. And if I am taught to look on women in a certain way when I am age four or 14 or 24, when I am 44 or 54 I will probably be doing the same thing. So the correction has to be made when they are young, when they are at home, when they are at church, when they are school. That is where the correction has to be done. It is very difficult to correct a person’s behaviour at 54.
I want to start with Granger’s answer first because it left me with a bad taste in my mouth. My question was how he felt about older men seeking out girls under 18 for sexual relations, but his entire response was a justification of the predatory (yes, I do consider it predatory) actions of these creepy old men against girls. Yes, Granger does have a point that the objectification and sexualisation of young girls is morally and socially wrong (I have written on this often), but “culture” and “tradition” do not at all justify the actions of mature men who prey on young girls.
Next, I think Ramotar had the right answer in that this behaviour is immoral and that we should discourage and expose it. However, I was energised by Ramjattan’s emphatic stance that such behaviour is perverted and abominable. What comes over in Ramjattan’s answer, even in reading it, is the ardent and forceful tone he used concerning this topic as well as his obvious conviction that something needs to be done to stop this perversion.
Here are my ratings for this week’s answers: Granger = 0; Ramotar = 2; Ramjattan = 3.