Human rights groups protest for independent probe of NOC abuse claims

-urge decriminalisation of wandering

Human rights groups yesterday called for an independent probe into the most recent allegations of sexual abuse of New Opportunity Corps (NOC) inmates, while urging a full disclosure on the findings of a Board of Inquiry into disturbances at the facility two years ago.

Activists from Red Thread, Help and Shelter, the Colwyn Harding Support Group and the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) yesterday protested in the Main Street Avenue opposite the ministry against the alleged sexual assault and abuse of juveniles at the NOC. They also called on Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport Dr Frank Anthony to withdraw his “extremely insensitive remarks on the recent reports of abuse” and urged him to take all rape/assault allegations seriously and to investigate the staff at the reform institution.

In an open letter to the minister, signed by activists Danuta Radzik, Sherlina Nageer and Karen de Souza, called on the minister to immediately release the findings of the Inquiry set up to investigate the 2012 disturbances involving the escape of some students; that he establish an independent task force to investigate the most recent allegations of sexual abuse of students; that he ensures that the students detained/charged are granted independent legal representation as soon as possible in keeping with their rights; that he ensures that appropriate measures are put in place to immediately abolish the use of any form of corporal punishment at the NOC as outlined in the Juvenile Offenders Act and Training School Amendment Act 2010; and provide training for staff who cannot manage without recourse to the to the whip so they can be reoriented towards appropriate and humane ways of enforcing discipline.

Further, they urged the minister to demonstrate leadership and accountability in holding NOC staff members to the highest possible standards of discipline and professionalism, and to provide ongoing psychological and social support to staff to ensure that they retain the emotional health to meet such standards.

Repeal ‘wandering’ offence

The activists further demanded that the promised changes to the legislation made by the Ninth Parliament in 2009 to pass the Juvenile Justice Bill must be done in the Tenth Parliament and that the NOC must be placed under an independent management committee comprising individuals with the requisite expertise and experience in human rights law and practice to run a successful juvenile rehabilitation centre.

They are also lobbying the National Assembly to repeal the offence of “wandering” as children charged with this offence are not offenders but are victims of child abuse and neglect. Reports indicate that many of the children enrolled in the institution had been charged with “wandering” and as such are being penalised for being victims and survivors of child abuse, an affront to their human rights, they said.

 ‘No confidence’

Meanwhile, APNU leader David Granger yesterday reiterated an appeal by the main opposition coalition for an independent probe into the administration, organisation and management of the NOC. He stated that APNU has “no confidence” in the ministry’s ability to administer the facility. It is against this background that the opposition group is calling for the oversight of the NOC to be transferred to a more suitable ministry, addressing both the educational and human services requirements from a reformed human services body.

APNU said the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) administration must undertake urgently, through partnership with other ministries, to sympathetically and promptly address the needs of the students with an aim of preventing further exploitation.

In August of 2012, a mass break-out of juvenile residents at the Essequibo facility resulted in two buildings in the compound being torched, and other disturbances. Forty-six teenagers were later charged with various offences and a Board of Inquiry was commissioned to investigate the matter.

Since this incident there has been a surge of smaller incidents and unrest accompanied by reports of sexual assault and abuse of the students by caregivers, older male juveniles and adult male staff members which the children say is the main reason for their behaviour.

The most recent allegation of sexual assault was made by a 16-year-old girl who in a letter to her parents said, “Sometimes a circle of people would beat me” and that “caregivers would insert their fingers inside my private parts and call it a body search.” When the teen’s mother sought assistance at the Ministry of Human Services she was told that it is normal for inmates to write letters detailing similar experiences. This prompted the woman to publicise the letter in the media.

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