Guyana riled by ruling allowing wedding of underage girl to accused rapist

GEORGETOWN, Guyana, Friday October 25, 2013 – The decision by Chief Justice Ian Chang to permit the marriage of a 15-year-old girl to the 38-year-old man accused of raping and getting her pregnant has outraged Guyanese rights groups and activists.

Chang ruled that the pair could wed on humanitarian grounds after the teenager became pregnant and her parents petitioned the court to authorize the union.

The girl’s parents said that they had given up trying to persuade their daughter to return home, and said in their petition that the next best thing was to allow her to marry.

In 2005, religious groups and other organizations successfully petitioned the Guyana government to increase the age of consent to 16.

On Wednesday, activists said they were researching Guyana’s laws to determine whether Chang’s ruling was legal.

The ruling was handed down on September 24, but only became public this week after one of the attorneys involved in the case spoke with local media.

Meanwhile, the couple became man and wife on October 11 after a court granted them a marriage license.

The new husband is still facing statutory rape charges, but a judge has postponed the hearing until November while seeking advice on how to proceed, given the high court ruling. If found guilty, the man could face at least five years in jail.

The episode has ignited the wrath of several of the country’s human rights groups.

“This country has become a circus and a very dangerous place for children. They ought to have rights and be entitled to protection,” said Karen DeSouza, spokeswoman for Red Threat, a leading women’s rights organization. Click here to receive free news bulletins via email from Caribbean360. (View sample)