-inmates flee facility, complain of abuse to parents
Minister of Youth, Dr Frank Anthony on Wednesday said there had been no report or any evidence that there had been sexual abuse by staff members of juveniles at the New Opportunity Corps (NOC) facility at Onderneeming after shocking allegations made by recent runaways.
At a press conference, the Minister was replying to allegations that runaways from the correctional facility had alleged sexual abuse by staffers. Parents have also come forward to report that they have been told of cases of physical and sexual abuse of their children, who are among inmates who recently fled from the facility before being recaptured.
Christopher Jones, a Member of Parliament (MP) for the main opposition APNU, who has received reports from some parents, has criticised the minister’s handling of the reports about abuse by both staff and older inmates at the facility, saying that he is fully aware of what is happening and is attempting to cover up the situation.
A statement from the Ministry reported the Minister at the press conference as saying that no report and evidence
was provided pointing to any form of sexual abuse by staff members and at no time were male students sent to assist in bringing back female absconders.
In the statement, Anthony also called on parents and inmates of the NOC to report such acts. He emphasised that getting the police involved is also crucial.
“If there is any case of wrong-doing…if a child can come forward and say this person has done them wrong like a staff of the institution then we want to know that because we do not want such persons on our staff,” Anthony said. He added that the complaints do not have to be made to the Ministry but they can be forwarded to the Police so that they can do their investigations. He pledged that the ministry will co-operate fully with such investigations.
While the Minister denied the claims of sexual abuse at the NOC, he did relate ongoing problems at the institution while noting that even though it was a juvenile correctional facility it does not look like one and the inmates were not treated as prisoners. He noted that there was no fence and security is at the minimum.
“Because of how the place is situated a child can easily walk off the premises and escape,” he said. He said that the last time such an incident occurred was on the 22nd March, 2014 when a female student started to use indecent language, loudly and aggressively in the female Dormitory. The student along with three female students then ran past the perimeter fence.
He said that those students were pursued by two female supervisors who made efforts to stop the quartet from leaving the female’s compound but they continued. He said that shortly after, four male students ran after the female students to the densely forested backlands of the NOC.
Anthony said that these incidents were reported to the police and the parents of the runaway children were also notified because in some cases the students return to their homes. He added that a team of male and female staff members went in search of these students.
On March 24, 2014, he said that another team of staff members comprising both males and females were able to locate the camp site of the absconded students and were able to find them. The female students were taken to the Medical Centre where they were examined and they were then referred to the Suddie Public Hospital, the statement said.
All eleven students—seven boys and four girls—were then taken to the Suddie Police Station, he said. From this number, it appeared that three other boys had also run away from the facility. The Minister said that the matter is engaging the Suddie Magistrate’s Court. He said that three males are in custody at the Suddie Police Station, while four male students and four female students are at the Juvenile Holding Centre- Sophia awaiting the Court’s decision.
The Minister added that staff members were threatened and verbally abused by some parents and guardians after the last Court hearing on April 17, 2014.
However, Jones has disputed the account given by Anthony and has claimed that the families of some of the escapees reported that older inmates were used to recapture some those who fled the facility.
He said he spoke with the parents of a 15-year-old escapee, who has alleged that she was sexually assaulted by one of the older inmates.
Jones also spoke of a 16-year-old girl who left the institution about two months ago and is about six months pregnant. He said the girl spoke about medics at the institution who provide the morning after pill to be used as an emergency contraceptive. “The NOC is like a sex camp and the Minister is fully aware of this!” he exclaimed.
Further, he said the NOC did not call any of the escaped children’s parents and instituted charges against them despite the reasons for their actions.
In August of 2012, there was a mass breakout from the NOC followed by disturbances during which fires were allegedly set by some of the juveniles. Forty-six of the juveniles between the ages of 14 and 18 years were charged with various offences relating to the disturbances at the facility. A Board of Inquiry report was commissioned into the disturbances but 18 months later its findings are still to be released to the public.
Jones told Stabroek News that since the breakout, there have been dozens of cases reported to the Office of the Leader of the Opposition.
He noted that Minister Anthony met with some of the inmates at the institution and was told that sexual abuse was among the reasons for their decision to flee the facility. “He said to the inmates that when the [inquiry] is finished and is made public, all the caregivers who have been found guilty will be dealt with,” Jones said, while noting that the minister is still to deliver the findings of the inquiry despite promises in the National Assembly.
“This is a clear case that the Minister and the Ministry sought to cover the situation up—the 2012 unrest that we had, the reports from inmates who spoke of verbal, physical and sexual abuse by caregivers at the institution,” he charged, while noting that APNU never made the reports it was receiving public because it was awaiting the findings of the inquiry.
‘We didn’t expect anything like this’
Stabroek News spoke with the parents of two of the escapees, including the father of the 15-year-old girl who said she was sexually assaulted by an older inmate. “Long now, my daughter telling her mother on the phone that she has something to tell us but we didn’t expect anything like this,” the man cried out. He was also worried about the health of his daughter and he was adamant that if she was infected with a sexually transmitted infection or disease, he would not take it lightly.
The man said he has been trying relentlessly to get help for his daughter and added that he wants nothing more than for her to return home. He explained that he and his wife visited the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports last Thursday and he was told that the ministry had no knowledge of the escapees. He added that he also visited the Juvenile Branch at Police Headquarters, Eve Leary, the Human Services Ministry, and when all his efforts for answers were futile he went to the Office of the Leader of the Opposition.
The man was deeply angered about not being notified of what transpired at the NOC by its administrators and he said he was only informed after his daughter managed to contact him by phone. He stated that his daughter was expected to be released in June, according to the information he was given when he visited the Ministry but he was worried that she may be sentenced to serve additional time in a facility that he says he has no confidence in.
Meanwhile, the mother of another teenager who was among the escapees, said her daughter told her that she was being beaten at the NOC. She said that the girl also told her that at times she is even beaten on her private parts. “She said sometimes a circle of people would beat her,” the woman said. “She said sometimes the caregivers would insert their fingers inside her private parts and call it a body search,” the woman further added.
She too complained of not being notified by the institution about her daughter’s wellbeing.
The woman said her daughter wrote a letter detailing her experiences at the NOC and she had taken the letter to the Human Services Ministry, only to be told that it is normal for inmates of NOC to write letters detailing similar experiences.
The woman said she subsequently took the letter to the media and her daughter’s story was aired on a local newscast about a week ago.