Almost one month after it was reported that a boy who appeared to be no older than eight was working in a Puruni Backdam mining pit, the child remains in the area, does not attend school and runs “every time he hears a vehicle”, according to President of the Guyana Women’s Miners Organi-sation (GWMO) Simona Broomes.
On November 4, this newspaper reported that Broomes had seen the child working in a mining pit among adults and using profanities. The GWMO head had stated that the child was seen in the Tiger Creek area and she had made a report to the mines officer along with other cases of school-aged children being in the back dam. Broomes had said that mines officer promised to look for the mother of the child and have her remove him from the area.
But almost a month later, the child is still there, according to Broomes, who only returned from the area two days ago. This was her second visit to the area since this newspaper had reported on the child’s plight and on both occasions she saw the boy working.
“It appears as if someone said something about his matter being reported because every time the vehicle is approaching he would run and hide but he is still there and I don’t understand what is going on,” Broomes said.
She reiterated that her organisation is impotent on these issues, since even if it finds cases of child labour and trafficking in persons, it cannot confront these problems directly.
Stabroek News had approached Minister of Human Services & Social Security Jennifer Webster on the issue and she had indicated that the Child Care & Protection Agency was handling the matter and that contact should be made with the agency’s head Anne Greene. However, when contacted, Greene said she had only recently returned to work after a period away and contact should be made with the person who acted as head in her absence. That person was Teresa Gaime, deputy head of the agency.
However, she would only say that the agency’s Region 7 officer was in the field and was expected to investigate the matter. She could not offer any further information. That was more a week ago.
According to Broomes, the child is still there and persons in the backdam did not indicate to her that any government official visited the area to investigate the child’s presence in the backdam. She said one adult in the area commended her for highlighting the child’s plight and indicated that he really should be in school.
Broomes expressed grave concern about this ongoing issue and questioned who really cares for the children who are working in the interior.
She mentioned 16-year-old Aubrey Benjamin of Dog Point, Bartica, who was murdered early last month in the Cuyuni Backdam after he had reportedly asked his employer about his wages.
Broomes also mentioned seeing a child sleeping in the back of a vehicle exposed to the dew in the same Puruni Backdam, while his employer was socializing at a nearby drinking spot.
“This boy was there in the back of the vehicle and he had some kind of injury [to] one foot that was wrapped with a plastic bag and I felt so sad looking at him. He could not be more than 12 years old,” Broomes reported.
Broomes said she had hoped that by highlighting the child’s plight the relevant authorities would have acted in his best interest.
“We could talk and highlight these things, the changes have to come from higher than us. We have the passion and we are doing the work voluntarily and taking all the risks and nothing is being done,” a frustrated Broomes said.
She indicated that since the GWMO was formed in January she has devoted her time to trying to assist women and children from being exploited in the interior, which seems to be a forgotten world that the authorities pay little or no attention to.
“It has been a hectic but satisfying journey because I think we have been able to lift the stigma about women working in the interior because many thought we were all just prostitutes. But there are women with real jobs—not only as miners—working in the interior and even those who work as prostitutes need to be respected,” she said.
She said the number of women and men who have been contacting members of the organisation for assistance and who have been providing information was overwhelming at times but the GWMO was pleased with the response.
“While the system is not working the way I would have expected it to, I must say I am encouraged by the response we have had and that women and men are turning to us for assistance. The system operates as if we are a lil mischievous group who are talking things we should not talk instead of helping women and children who are suffering in the interior,” Broomes charged.
Broomes is also disappointed that while agencies in both the public and private sectors have promised to help to train women in the interior to become more marketable, nothing has materialized. She said it is the GWMO’s vision that women who work as prostitutes and those who are being exploited could be trained to take on some of the jobs men do in the interior, so that they could be respected and earn more.
Meantime, Broomes once again called for the health and security systems to be improved for miners in the interior. She also complained about the company that charges miners a fee to use its pontoon and the road at Itabali Landing pointing out that there is no proper “stage for vehicles to go on and off of the pontoon”.
She said that by now there should have been a facility to assist vehicles to roll on and off of the pontoon. “They are not doing us a favour, we are paying them and they should have better arrangements in place,” she added.
Broomes also called for more incentives for small and medium-scale miners who receive duty-free concessions for ATV bikes, which are very dangerous to use in the rainy season.