Stop sending child offenders to New Opportunity Corps -childcare head

Young offenders should no longer be sent to the Essequibo remedial facility, NOC, according Head of the Childcare and Protection Agency (CPA) Ann Greene who also said the police practice of releasing accused child sex offenders after 72 hours must end.

Greene was speaking on Friday at a meeting of the CPA with the media on raising awareness about child protection and increasing advocacy and noted that for January to June this year there was a total of 1117 cases of child abuse with mothers the biggest offenders followed by fathers. She added that “home is where the hurt is” and some of the victims couldn’t even say who had abused them “they literally do not have a voice”.

Held at the Halito Hotel and Residence on Middle Street, Greene delivered a presentation on child protection in Guyana in which she called for more support from all sections of society.

From left at the forum are CPA Head Ann Greene, Human Services Minister Jennifer Webster and UNICEF Representative to Guyana, Marianne Flach
From left at the forum are CPA Head Ann Greene, Human Services Minister Jennifer Webster and UNICEF Representative to Guyana, Marianne Flach

Noting that there are 800 plus children in institutional care at the moment, she said that some of these will inevitably “age out” and the CPA will have to help prepare them for independent living. The CPA has access to a building in Sophia that could possibly be used but needs to be worked on.

She also pointed out that some of the children in the state’s care had mental health issues which required specialist attention.

Greene called for an alternative to the New Opportunity Corps (NOC) to place child offenders. Critics of the NOC have argued that it is regimented in a manner that continues punishing children when they should be helped to overcome the problems that led them astray. Critics have also argued that the NOC carries a stigma with it and this in itself inflicts a long-term impact on the psyche of the child.  In 2012 there were several days of unrest at the NOC at Onderneeming which saw mass breakouts and fires set. The government recently advertised for the construction of a new holding facility at the NOC.

Greene railed against the burdening of children with offences that they shouldn’t be responsible for. She homed in on the charge of wandering and said she always wondered why a child should  be charged with such an offence. It was the responsibility of parents and guardians to ensure that children were not wandering and the child should not be charged.

One of the areas she addressed was parliamentary insensitivity to child protection and said that one of the key issues was ensuring that the CPA had enough money to do its job.

Greene also criticised the police handling of cases against those accused of exually abusing children. She said on the expiration of the maximum 72 hours that a person could be held without charge, the police release the suspects and that is usually the end of the matter.

“That confounded nonsense must stop!” she declared, further arguing that children don’t like to talk about sex. “It is not in their DNA”, she said.  She spoke on cases of where children would draw to depict their sexual violation and in particular one case where a red splotch indicated blood and a mop standing in a corner had been used to clean up after the act.

The forum sponsored by the Government of Guyana, the CPA and UNICEF saw the vexed issue of corporal punishment, which is still practised here, addressed by the main presenters. UNICEF Representative Marianne Flach who spoke first, set the ball rolling by pointing out that corporal punishment was a violation of the rights of children and that this was the type of issue the media must keep in the forefront.

Guyana is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which outlaws corporal punishment. When it was her turn, Minister of Human Services Jennifer Webster stated that the matter of corporal punishment was currently engaging the attention of a parliamentary committee and that when Parliament reconvenes next month this matter will be further addressed and recommendations from a large number of groups will be considered.

Critics of the government’s stance have said that it should be taking a leadership

position on corporal punishment and forge ahead with removing it from the law books in keeping with its international human rights treaty obligations.

When she alighted on the matter, Greene said it is a big issue here and that whenever she is confronted by someone who says that they were beaten in their childhood and they were grateful for it her rejoinder to them was “you would a turn out better” without the licks. “Discipline doesn’t have to hurt”, she declared while noting that the jury is still out on the matter.

In her detailed presentation Greene spoke of a technique used to try to find out more about the domestic circumstances of the children. The children are asked to describe their parents in one word which oftentimes paints an entire picture.   She cited one example where the mother was described as a “beauty” connoting that she was the dress up type and always out of the home while the father was described as “caring”.

Greene hailed mobile phone company Digicel for its rebuilding of the Mahaica children’s home. She also asserted that the media was doing a much better job on dealing with children’s issues.

Flach in her presentation spoke of the “indispensable” role of mass and social media in protecting and advocating for child rights. She cautioned that if the media chose to focus on negative and sensational issues related to children they perpetuate a cycle of negativity and re-victimize children.

She argued that the detention of children by law enforcement should not be arbitrary and should be only as a last resort and for the shortest period of time.

Flach congratulated Guyana on being the first Caribbean country to sign International Labour Organisation Convention 189 on domestic workers, pointing out that worldwide there are millions of children functioning as servants.

Webster in her presentation decried the low turnout by the media and lamented that it tended to pay attention to the ‘sexy’ issues and with a lot of emphasis on the negatives.  Contending that it takes “a village” to raise a child, Webster posited that the many NGOs and other partners on the ground have to do a better job at sharing information.

She made a special appeal for children to be protected from sexual predators.

The meeting was moderated by Orrin Boston, Chief Executive Officer of the Rights of the Child Commission.

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