- The Washington Times - Monday, August 30, 2004

Guyana shocked

Guyana’s ambassador says his country was shocked when the State Department listed the South American nation among the world’s worst abusers of women and children.

A State Department report in June accused Guyana for the first time of failing to curb human trafficking, which includes forced prostitution and child labor, and placed it in a category that could result in U.S. economic sanctions.

However, Ambassador Odeen Ishmael said his country has since taken forceful measures to combat human trafficking and hopes to be recognized for its efforts when the State Department re-evaluates Guyana in mid-September.

“The initial reaction was one of shock,” said Mr. Ishmael, the most senior Latin American or Caribbean envoy in Washington.

“At the same time, the Guyana government promised to fast-track plans to avoid a cut in funding from the United States and international lending agencies,” he said in a review of his government’s actions since June.

The State Department report said: “Guyana is a country of origin, transit and destination for young women and children trafficked primarily for sexual exploitation.”

The ambassador noted that Guyana’s minister of human services and social security, Bibi Shadick, complained that Washington failed to recognize the government’s efforts to draw international attention to human trafficking in forums such as the Organization of American States and the Inter-American Commission of Women.

“Minister Shadick has personally plunged herself into a countrywide campaign to investigate the issue and to educate various communities in the remote interior of the country of problems associated with human trafficking,” Mr. Ishmael said.

“This is very commendable since it is very unusual for a Cabinet minister in the Latin America and Caribbean region, or anywhere else, to be involved so directly in trying to stamp out a social scourge.”

Mrs. Shadick and Guyanese President Bharrat Jagdeo met with a State Department delegation in July to discuss the government’s response to the report.

“After the visit … the [U.S.] officials expressed a desire to work with the Guyana government to get the country removed from that status,” Mr. Ishmael said.

The government ordered police raids on several mining camps in the interior of the nation to remove women and girls who were recruited as prostitutes or subjected to forced labor, the ambassador said.

The government introduced legislation in Parliament that will impose severe penalties, including life sentences, against those convicted of trafficking. The bill also proposes government help for the victims that would include housing, jobs and education.

Mr. Ishmael said those remedies will cost more than Guyana can afford and hopes the United States will provide more than the recent $100,000 grant for education programs.

Indonesian schools

Indonesia’s schools got a major boost yesterday when the U.S. ambassador there announced the largest American aid program ever for the world’s most populous Muslim nation.

Ambassador Ralph Boyce said the $468 million grant earmarks $157 million over five years for education. The rest will go to basic humanitarian services and food aid, he said at a press conference in the capital, Jakarta.

A minority of Islamic schools have been blamed for hard-line religious instruction that encourages terrorism, but the U.S. aid is aimed at moderate Muslim schools.

“With the signing of these agreements today, Indonesian children will have an improved chance of emerging as greater contributors to Indonesian economic and social growth as healthy, productive and educated citizens,” he said.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail [email protected]

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