Ann Rosita Boodhoo is the mother of the four Mahaicony Creek children who have been left to fend for themselves but her slim frame, innocent smile and trusting nature make her appear to be little more than a child herself at 22 years old.
The oldest of her four children, 10-year-old Anita Pooranmal, tends to her siblings, Sanjay called Radesh, 9, Ritesha, 8, and Avinash, 7, and their alcoholic father Gupta Pooranmal. With no adult to guide them the children are dirty, clad in tattered clothes, do not attend school and are often left alone for days.
Contacted yesterday, Minister of Human Services and Social Security Priya Manickchand told Stabroek News that she did not know about the children plight before as it only came to her attention through this newspaper.
She promised to act on the case and said that a team from her ministry would be sent into the creek today to assess the situation. The minister said the preference is not to take the children away from their home as the orphanage is not the best place for them. She said too that the help from the ministry could be coordinated with other persons.
Last June, after having nothing to cook for three days, Boodhoo said, she had finally had enough and decided to walk out on her alcoholic and excessively abusive husband. Three of her children refused to leave with her.
“Meh ask dem to come wid meh but only meh second chile’ come wid meh de day meh lef’ da place,” Boodhoo told this newspaper yesterday.
Boodhoo said she and her older son, Sanjay, walked from Pine Ground to Branch Road; a total of seven miles. With no money to travel Boodhoo was forced to sell her two gold rings for $8,000.
It was with that money Boodhoo and Sanjay made their way to her mother’s Canal Number Two home to seek shelter. However, one day later Gupta showed up drunk, created a scene at her mother’s house and took Sanjay back to Pine Ground.
In September of last year, Boodhoo recalled, Gupta showed up at her mother’s house with the four children. He left them there, returning just as suddenly in mid-October and taking them back to Mahaicony Creek.
Boodhoo, who had little chance of acquiring an education, told Stabroek News that Anita and Sanjay attended school whenever she could afford to send them. But this was a practice Gupta detested, she said, and he often verbally abused her over it because he didn’t think attending school was of any use to his children.
Ritesha and Avinash have never attended school but the mother stressed that all her children’s births were registered. She produced the birth certificates of Anita and Avinash but explained that the others were left at Gupta’s house.
Boodhoo, who has no idea what the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security is, said that while she was willing to take her children she had no way of supporting them and neither did her mother.
When it was explained that her children could possibly be placed in a home where the government would be responsible for their welfare, Boodhoo said if that was the best thing to do then she had no objections. However, her response did not sound too confident.
The woman has since relocated to a village in West Demerara, but does not want to reveal her whereabouts since she is fearful that the excessively abusive Gupta will find her.
When she lived in Pine Ground with Gupta and the children, Boodhoo said, she worked as a maid to make money to provide meals for them. Although Gupta caught wild birds and fish for a living he never contributed any of his earnings to the household.
Smiling weakly as if it could somehow ease the pain of her memories Boodhoo told of how Gupta would often take the little money she earned to buy rum. Gupta spent all the money to feed his habit, she said, and left the burden of finding food on her shoulders.
“He go spend he money and tek way me own. Den when he come home and e na gat food he go cuss and beat me and de children,” Boodhoo said.
There were days when she and her children were left hungry unless Gupta’s relatives provided them with a meal. Days without food to cook, money and no way of borrowing either were many in Pine Ground and it finally drove Boodhoo away.
“Is nah de firs’ time I lef he,” she stated. “Me lef he nuff time before but me always go back cause dem children de mo’ small then.”
Mother at 12
Boodhoo became a mother at age 12. She met Gupta, who was 21 at the time, in her home village Canal Number One Polder just over ten years ago and eloped with him to Pine Ground where she faced misery.
“De day after meh go deh [Pine Ground] wid he meh get a good beating,” Boodhoo said after a long pause.
The woman recalled that even one decade ago Gupta drank “hard”. Gupta, she said, beat her constantly because he didn’t want her speaking to anyone. Boodhoo said Gupta told her repeatedly that he didn’t like her speaking to anyone especially men because they “wanted” her.
Although Gupta’s relatives intervened several times in their situation, Boodhoo explained, they could never do anything to help. Gupta, according to the woman, would always tell them to mind their own business and “leave him be”.
One decade ago the legal age of consent was 12 years, but still Boodhoo’s parents made several attempts to fetch her from Pine Ground. Boodhoo never returned with them because Gupta told her not to and threatened to kill her if she did.
Boodhoo delivered her first child Anita in 1998 and spend most of the following three years recovering from pregnancy, becoming pregnant and delivering. By the time she had her youngest child Avinash at age 15 she had already experienced years of dealing with the abusive Gupta in addition to caring for three toddlers and keeping them fed.
Beatings didn’t stop during pregnancies, Boodhoo stated. Gupta would beat her even after her belly had gotten “big mo’ than pumpkin”. Rubbing her arms, Boodhoo explained how he’d beat her with his hands, pieces of wood, wire, rope and cutlass.
Gupta’s drinking was supported by some of his relatives the emotionally scarred woman explained. She said had a relative who sold liquor and he would give all of his money to that relative in return for rum.
Both Gupta’s parents are now dead, but when she had first gone to Pine Ground, the young woman recalled, her father-in-law was still alive and as he too had a drinking problem.
“Dem two, daddy and pickanee (child) bin ah knock glass together,” she said. “… He whole generation if dem nah drink rum, dem ah sell am.”
During the near ten years of abuse Boodhoo endured she admitted that she only reported the matter to the police once. According to the woman, two years ago after Gupta had beaten her she had made a report at the Wales Police Station but the matter was ignored so she decided to “leave them be”.
Meanwhile, there has been an overwhelming response from persons desirous of helping the children and Gupta’s uncle, Kesarchandra Kawal who lives next door said he was willing to take on the responsibility.
He said persons can contact him on telephone numbers: 615-7418 or 613-1671 to make arrangements to see the children. The man said he can provide a boat to take persons in the creek if he is supplied with the gasoline.
Kawal’s wife, Seeranie Latchman said she too would be willing to supervise the children with the assistance they would be receiving from persons.
Kawal said that after the story was published he gave Gupta – who saw the newspaper but cannot read – a stern talking to about changing his behaviour and taking his role as a father more seriously.
The man recalled that Gupta’s father who was also an alcoholic collapsed suddenly and he would be glad for his nephew to get help soon lest he suffers the same fate.
He said the children are also without the love and care of a mother and at least the father should play a more active role.
The man said he and his brother, Sewsankar who also lives next door are disgusted with Gupta’s attitude and they constantly tell him about it. He said they were extremely harsh with him about his neglectful attitude.
When this newspaper visited the creek last week, Sewsankar was instrumental getting help for the children although their father had stopped talking to him because of his intervention on the children’s behalf. He was even told to mind his own business. He said he and other relatives would be sorry for the children and give them food but at the moment they too were struggling and could hardly make ends meet because of the flood situation in the area.
Besides, he had said, when Gupta knew the children were being taken care of he would behave more irresponsibly.
Sewsankar had said too, ““What dem children this pass through, me na think a dog ever pass through. When dem don’t get food, dem does bear them chafe in that house.” He mentioned that he did not know where to turn to get help for the children and would be glad if the Ministry of Human Services could do something for them.
Anita, who has had to take on the responsibility of a mother also has to do the laundry – but without any soap. The children have never used shampoo and rarely have soap to bathe with.
None of them knew what day they were born; have never been made to feel special on their birthdays and have never received any presents.
During this newspaper’s visit, the children were dressed in dingy clothing; Anita with skirt and top and Retisha who had never been to school was clad in an old school uniform that was given to her by a resident. The boys were dressed in oversized t-shirts without any pants.
Of the two boys, only Sanjay had gone to school. Anita attended school up to Grade Three. When asked, she said proudly that she could spell her first name. But she did not know how to spell Pooranmal.
When there is nothing to cook, Anita said, she would pick “lime leaf” from the neighbour’s tree. This she would boil to make ‘tea’ and serve to her siblings without milk or sugar.
The children would also climb fruit trees in the area in search of ‘food.’ Three months ago the youngest child, Avinash fell off a tree while climbing and broke his left arm.
Though they hardly spoke, it was obvious from the children’s expressions that they yearn for a better life. The house they live in looks like it would fall at anytime and this newspaper learnt that a few zinc sheets had already been blown off by recent heavy winds.