At 18 many young girls would be looking forward excitedly to their future, but for Tammy (not her real name) her future seems grim and as she puts it, “there is nothing to look forward to.”
Pregnant, HIV positive and an abusive partner are just some of the daily challenges that Tammy has to live with and given her sad life it is a wonder that she has made it this far. The soft-spoken petite young woman talks about her life in a halting manner, and many times her face contorts as she recalls some of her more painful experiences. Even although she is eight months pregnant she wears a pair of high-heeled shoes, not because she wants to make a fashion statement or because of preference, but rather because that is the only pair of shoes she owns.
She sat in the Brickdam office of the Guyana Women Miners Organisation (GWMO) and spoke to the Sunday Stabroek about her life. Her only wish for the future is for her baby to born without the HIV virus. While not very clear about how she will do it, she says she wants to provide a better life for her baby than she had, although she is sure that she will not abandon her child in the way that her own mother abandoned her.
Tammy is a victim of trafficking in persons, and while she was not rescued by the GWMO the man who rescued her not only took her to the relevant government authorities but he also contacted President of the organization, Simona Broomes. The organisation has kept in contact with the teenager and she recently reached out to them because her baby is weeks away from delivery, and she is not prepared for the birth and does not have the means to prepare. Broomes and her members have plans to assist the young mother and said they would continue to support her in whatever way they can.
If ever a system which was designed to assist children in vulnerable situations has failed a child, that child would be Tammy, as she is the classic example of a youngster who passed through the system but was not afforded the chance to really make it in life.
From the time she became aware life has been a struggle, and while she had to be told she was abandoned by her mother at the age of three months Tammy can remember that her first few years were spent in a children’s home.
“Me, I really don’t have a mother… My mother does drink nuff and she give me away when I was three months and I grow up in a home till I was eleven,” Tammy said.
She does not talk much about the years she spent in the children’s home nor does she share details on the years she spent at school, but it was clear that after she left the home there were no more school days for her. The teenager recalled that she and a younger sister were returned to their mother from the home and the woman reluctantly took them in, but for her the time with the mother she had never known was short lived.
Asked how many children her mother has Tammy replied: “Well is me and my sister and have a lil girl she say is her daughter, but I don’t know.” There is no information on her father.
Tammy spent just about two years with her mother and she recalled that the relationship was very turbulent since as far as she was concerned, her mother does not love her and she was seen as a burden. She eventually ran away from her mother’s home and ended up living on the streets.
Just shy of her thirteenth birthday she struck up a relationship with a 17-year-old boy who took her home, albeit to strong objections from his mother.
“He mother tell me how she don’t like me fuh she son, and after me and she couldn’t get along I tell he that we can’t make it and I lef,” Tammy said.
She left and found herself at an aunt who later accused her of stealing money from her and Tammy was locked up by the police. Eventually she was sentenced to two years at the New Opportunity Corps (NOC) better known as the ‘girls school.’
For Tammy the two years spent at the institution were some of the best years of her life, and given a choice she would have remained there longer.
“There I get learn skills and learn other things…” she said before trailing off.
After the two years were up Tammy said she spent an afternoon and night at the home she had initially grown up in before she was returned to the care of her mother.
“After I get out is was like where to go and live and they take me back to the home, and then the people take me to my mother and tell she that she have to tek me back and didn’t want tek me back, but I start living with she again.”
The second attempt at a mother and daughter relationship also failed and months later at age 15 Tammy ended up once again on the streets.
“I use to live on the street and then me aunt in law see me and she give me a lil place to live, but it was rent place and the people come back for it and I had to move. Then I move into a lil old house but it ain’t had no door or window and people use to want come in at night, so I had to go away. I just use to go and lie down lil bit deh and gone again.”
Always with her were a few pieces of clothing which was all she owned.
Eventually Tammy ended up in a second relationship but again it did not work out, and she was in her early days of pregnancy when she was invited to work in the interior. She grabbed the opportunity.
“I tell the lady I pregnant but she still carry me, and when I there I use to had to work hard and I didn’t have good thing to eat and I lose the baby and start bleeding bad and dem bring me out, and I went in the hospital on life support and then I come out.”
As soon as she left the hospital Tammy returned to the area where she lived on the streets and another woman invited her into the interior and she decided to go since she had nowhere to live.
“She tell me that I would work in a shop but when I go in she tell me that I have to sleep with man and I didn’t want do it… She beat me up so bad that all me eyes been swell up and this boy who I been know from before tek me and bring me out,” the teenager said.
She was brought out and taken to the Ministry of Human Services & Social Security and was eventually placed in the home at Mahaica.
This was last year and Tammy was 17 years old.
Shortly after being placed in the home the mother of the man ‒ he is in his twenties ‒ who brought her out of the interior, approached the ministry and offered to foster Tammy.
Shortly after she moved in with the woman and entered into a sexual relationship with her son, and while initially Tammy felt that maybe life would get better the ‘better days’ only lasted for a short period.
“He does tell me that he love me and so, but then he does beat me even though I pregnant and he mother know too,” the teenager said, adding that she has no one to turn to and a report has not been made to the police.
A few months into her pregnancy Tammy became very ill and had to be hospitalized and the doctor suggested an HIV test be done; the result was positive. She did not immediately inform the man but when she did he took the news calmly.
“He tell me how he support me and wouldn’t lef me alone,” the teenager said, explaining she believes he infected her knowingly.
When she questioned him he denied it, and said he was willing to be tested but has not been tested even after he promised to do it with the help of the GWMO.
Since reaching out to the GWMO for a second time Tammy has been taken to a doctor and appropriate clothing and footwear have been purchased for her.
Failure of the system
A frustrated Broomes said that the teenager’s story is just another of the many examples of how the system has failed trafficking victims. She pointed out that the teenager would have been part of the system almost her entire life, but today she is without hope. While Broomes and members try to help as much as they can ‒ even going as far as to foster some of the younger victims who are in dire straits ‒ they need so much more, but asked what else could their organisation do.
She pointed out that the only reason the man’s mother would have offered to foster the teenager was so that her son could start an intimate relationship with her. Broomes also noted that no one from the ministry checked on the girl’s living conditions and now that she is legally an adult she is left on her own.
“This is the same situation we see time and time again… The law says that we should help these victims, that we should counsel them, find jobs for them, house them; we want the Act to not just be on the shelf but one that helps our survivors,” Broomes told the Sunday Stabroek.
“This year the GWMO stands ready to put our energies together to ensure that our survivors are catered for,” she said.
She told this newspaper that the organisation’s vice-president Urica Primus has since taken the teenager to the doctor and she has to go back. Counselling has also been accessed for her through Sister Judith of the Mercy Sisters, who according to Broomes has reached out to the organisation and has helped victims with counselling and provided free tutoring in literacy.
“She [Sister Judith] has embraced the organisation because she wants to help these survivors,” Broomes said.