Cops, child care agency probing NOC abuse reports

– alleged victims put in protective custody after court orders removal 

The Child Care & Protection Agency (CC&PA) and the police have launched an investigation into reports of sexual and physical abuse committed on inmates at the New Opportunity Corps (NOC) at Onderneeming, following a court order late Friday night which instructed that four alleged victims be removed from the facility.

Head of the CC&PA Ann Greene yesterday told Stabroek News that the juveniles had to be removed from the facility for the investigation to be conducted. She explained that because the children were placed at NOC by a court decision, they could not just be removed without the intervention of the court.

“We just can’t turn up and say I am here to take out the children. These things have procedure and that is why we had to move to the court,” Greene told this newspaper.

In what is believed to be an unprecedented move, the CC&PA, through its lawyer, moved to the High Court to have the girls removed and this was granted late Friday evening.

Following weeks of allegations that were reported in the media, the mothers of the four females visited the office of the CC&PA and made official reports last Tuesday and the agency immediately started investigating. “We pushed it until we were able to get an order,” Greene said, revealing the girls were removed on Saturday and they are now in protective custody.

Greene noted that there was no way the investigation could have been conducted properly if the girls remained at the facility.

She announced that officers from the agency are currently at NOC conducting the investigation and the police would be involved as statements would have to be taken from the victims.

The allegations surfaced after a March 22, escape of some of the female inmates from the facility. The juveniles were eventually returned two days later, according to Youth Minister Dr Frank Anthony, who said both male and female staff members from NOC found their camp site. The girls who escaped appeared in court and were returned to the facility for longer periods or to complete their original sentences.

The minister had also stated that there was no report or evidence to support allegations of sexual abuse at the facility. “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 had told a media briefing. He had also pledged that the ministry would cooperate fully with any investigations.

 ‘Abuse’

Contrary to the minister’s account of the girls’ recapture, their parents say a group of male inmates and not staff members were the ones responsible. They said the girls reported that staff members knew where they were staying because the male inmates visited them during the short period of their escape and took food for them.

“She tell me that the boys had a nice time with them, sex them for the food they carry and that they just walk in back after they know they can’t go anywhere else,” one of the mothers told this newspaper.

The girls have also spoken of being subjected to regular cavity searches for “no reason” and being forced to take the “morning after pill,” which is a form of contraception. They are also reports of them being stripped down to their underwear when being placed in the “detention room” and having to endure sometimes having to survive without meals when they commit infractions.

One mother related that her daughter had threatened to take her own life if she was not removed from the facility.

The girls have all named officers who they say abused them sexually and physically and at least one of the officials has been implicated in several allegations.

Three of the mothers, who are single parents, spoke of sending their children to NOC as a last resort as it appeared that they had no other alternative. The girls were all sentenced to the facility for wandering.

“I thought it was the best thing because I didn’t know what else to do and I say she guh learn a skill and so. But now looking back, if I did know what I know now I wouldn’t a send she,” said one of the single mothers.

She said her daughter was also involved in the 2012 fire and escape at the institution. The girl, the mother explained, had said she was in a gang as a means of protection because those not affiliated to a gang at NOC would be taken advantage of.

APNU Member of Parliament Christopher Jones, who has been following the issue and lending support to the parents of the girls, told Stabroek News that whenever the inmates speak out about the abuses they are harassed and placed in the detention room.

He said APNU is preparing a dossier that would contain statements from former inmates and also from parents of some that are still in the institution. “We are going to submit that document to international children rights bodies… because we don’t have confidence that the perpetrators of these acts would be dealt with condignly and by virtue of that we want the international bodies to be aware and perhaps they would bring pressure to bear on the administration,” Jones said.

He said to solve the chronic issues at the NOC, all of the present caregivers would have to be removed because they are all being accused of abusing the inmates in some form or another.

Some of the inmates have spoken of the “power pipes” which are in the colours of blue, black and green and are used to beat the children whenever they commit an infraction. The inmates have reported that whenever a group does something that does not confirm to the rules of the institution, they are placed in a circle with a caregiver in the middle who would use one of the pipes to administer lashes without concern about which part of the body the pipe connects with.

“The children spoke of a detention room… this a concrete room with a grilled bar and door. There is no bed, there is no mattress, there is no sheet and there is no washroom facility. They spoke of having to defecate and urinate in a bucket and they are left in there for two or three days without the bucket being changed,” Jones said.

He said they were also stripped down to their underwear and placed in the room and many times are not given breakfast or lunch but at dinner time a combination of all three meals would be thrown together and given to them, “that is if they remember you are in there.”

 ‘Responsibility’

Jones said that because the NOC facility is a juvenile facility for children between the ages of 14 and 18, one would not expect it to have such a room to torture inmates.

According to Jones, if the government is serious about getting to the bottom of this issue, Minister Anthony should seek to have those students who have months remaining on their sentences pardoned with a view of having them appear before an investigative committee so that they can speak candidly about what is happening.

“Because it makes no sense for someone to seek to get information from them and at the end of the day they have to remain at the institution of which the perpetrators who they name are the caregivers at the institution,” Jones noted.

He said the inaction from Anthony is most troubling while arguing that one would expect the minister to act on the allegations and because of his failure to do so the blame of the continued abuse must be laid at his feet.

“He has to shoulder the responsibility because he allowed these atrocities to continue,” Jones said, pointing out that the public is yet to be apprised about the findings of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) that was conducted into the 2012 fire.

He said he is disappointed with the actions of the minister and even President Donald Ramotar, adding that all in the government should be outraged over the allegations. Had the issue been nipped in the bud, Jones said, it would not have reached this magnitude.

Anthony has also come under severe criticism for not releasing the findings of the CoI.

Statements given to the Col by staff members last year, and which have been seen by this newspaper, have revealed, among other things, that several of the officials were insufficiently qualified for the posts they held and were not aware of their responsibilities. The statements also revealed that staff members also knew of the plan to create disturbances but either kept it to themselves or took insufficient steps to prevent same from happening.

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