“Look, I move from pillar to post in this life,” the words of a teenager who only recently celebrated her 15th birthday, but who in her relatively short time on this earth has had horrible and traumatic life experiences.
After losing her mother at age five, she was moved from one house to the next, never really finding a place to call home and she was repeatedly abused by those who were supposed to care for her.
But even more disturbing is the fact that she was one of the females who were rescued from the interior by the Guyana Women Miners Organisation (GWMO) earlier this year, where she was being forced to work as a prostitute. The shocking truth about her age was revealed after she was encouraged by GWMO President Simona Broomes to secure an identification card in order to benefit from a three-month training stint with BK International. Her identification card indicates that she was born on September 5, 1998. This means the training opportunity is now no longer open to her.
When she was rescued, the child had indicated to the authorities that she was 20 years old. But with this new revelation, Head of the Child Care & Protection Agency Ann Greene said the agency will now have to make contact with the child and take her into state care.
Broomes said she intends to officially inform the Ministry of Human Services & Social Security, the police and the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) of this development, adding that no charge has been laid against the shop owner who had trafficked the child.
“I don’t have a mother.”
This was how the child began her interview with the Sunday Stabroek, during which, in a blunt, matter-of-fact manner, she told the chilling and disturbing tale of being physically and verbally abused by relatives and having sexual intercourse with as many as five men a day while she was in the interior. Today she is also hooked on marijuana, an addiction she developed while she was in the interior as in her own words she just wanted to “smoke my troubles away”.
“You see this? This is not a space teeth,” she said as she pointed to a gap at the front of her mouth, before revealing that an aunt she had lived with had knocked her tooth out when she was about nine years old.
She recalled that her younger cousins had made a mess of the house while their mother was not at home. When their mother returned, the child said, she just “beat out everybody and do blam, one cuff to me face and split me teeth in half and the whole thing come out.”
The tooth came out in two parts; one part fell out immediately while the other was extracted about a year after the incident. Even though she was bloodied by the blow she was not taken for medical attention.
She said her aunt was ill (she eventually died) and took out her frustration on her and her children; even though she, as the outsider, got the worst of it.
“Every lil thing she would pick on and she get real a day and hot some water and everybody she throw a cup of hot water on, but nobody didn’t get burn like how I get burn,” the child said as she pointed to burn marks on her skin.
With the aunt now dead, her children are “all over the place”. Some are in children’s homes while two are with another aunt with whom the teenager currently shares a house. There is also a physically disabled boy who is in another home.
Following the incident with her tooth the child was removed from that aunt’s care by her grandmother, who lives overseas, and placed in a children’s home. But she was later removed and placed with a family friend who was “lazy and nasty at the same time and I couldn’t deal with it because I gat to do wuk and then go to school…and when you come back home you can’t pick up you book is wuk again.”
Her father, she said, is “like no father at all”. She lived with him for a short period but his wife ill-treated her and she was removed again by her grandmother, who, according to her, only responded to her struggles by moving her from one location to the next.
Asked what were her dreams and hopes then, the child responded, “You need to ask if I had any hope. I just think that mommy dead and the most I would think is to kill people because they don’t treat me good.”
But since meeting Broomes, she said, she has been daily getting over those feelings and now hopes for a change in her life. She wants to be trained in masonry.
Friend in Sophia
Speaking about how she arrived in the interior, the child related that she was at an adult friend in Sophia when the friend indicated that she had received a call from a woman asking for two females. Encouraged by the friend, she made the decision to take the trip.
The child said when she met the shop owner, who never asked her age, she was told that she was going to work in a bar and was given $20,000 as an advance with which she purchased clothes and fixed her hair.
“I was with an aunt and due to she and she rowing and me grandmother not supporting… and after she start nagging and rowing I move out and go by my friend in Sophia,” she said explaining how she ended up at the friend.
She recalled that at the police outpost-where all vehicles and their occupants have to report—the shop owner did not take them into the station, but instead entered alone and signed some documents before returning to the vehicle.
When she arrived and was shown her room the child said, “I started thinking negative”. But she did not say anything, not even after she saw some girls scantily dressed “and everybody just deh wining up and going on in the shop.” She approached her friend about this situation and she told her that the girls were doing their own thing. The room, she said, was very small and the “thing like a bed was nothing to really fit you whole body just like half of you body.” There were two curtains, one at a window and the other at the door.
After her bath on the first day of her arrival, the child said, she dressed in long pants and a top but the shop owner indicated to her that she could not wear such clothes and instead suggested short pants and a top that left nothing to the imagination. Even though she protested, she had to wear the clothing.
“If you see this thing,” she said. “The pants deh right up in you butt and the top showing everything and I done get a high belly already and I was like shame but you know I didn’t want try to overtake she.”
As she was about to enter the bar the woman called her and said, “‘In deh is nah fuh you. You ain’t see I don’t get a bar girl already?’ Just suh she say it plain.” When she queried the reason for her being at the location, the woman asked her if she had not enquired from her friend.
“I start crying and I go and I call she [her friend] at the back and I ask she and she say we come to pick fare. I didn’t go out to the bar for the rest of the night and she [the shop owner] come and start hollering up on me, ‘you gah come outside because remember you get money fuh me and you gah make haste and pay me’.”
She said from that day she was “at war” with the shop owner and her friend pulled away from her. She then became friendly with another woman and the two started visiting other shops during the day and this angered the shop owner.
Following threats, she said, “I just start doing me own thing. I didn’t know what to do and I just start smoking the weed…” and sleeping with men for money.
The money was never given to her but to the shop owner who kept it, since she owed her the $20,000 advance and she also charged her for food and lodging which was $2,000 a day. The child said she spent about three weeks at the shop and while some days she would not have any clients, on other days she would have as many as five clients. The lowest fee a client would pay to be with her was $10,000.
She said that in order to get men interested, the females would have to model in the shop and the men would then decide who they wanted. She said the shop owner would prod her to approach the men, but “some men does be real disrespectful so I didn’t want to go.”
At this point during the interview, Broomes interjected that most times the trafficking victims would agree for the shop owners to keep the money since they are always reminded that they owe money and they are desperate to clear the mounting debt. She recalled that though the shop owner kept saying the child owed her money, a look at her books revealed that she was reportedly owed just $2,000.
At one point her clothes were taken away by the shop owner who told her she would not be allowed to go home until she paid her debt. She recalled too that she was threatened with a knife.
She was never beaten, but she recalled a time when her friend attempted to leave. The shop owner’s bartender tracked her down, gave her a sound thrashing and took her back to the shop. There they locked up her clothes as well. The child said there were five of them at the shop but two of the other females had jumped on a truck and left the area one night while the shop owner was asleep.
One morning, she said, the shop owner told them to go and hide because some people were coming into the area. Minutes later, the child said, the warden for the area approached her and asked if she had a privilege (which is needed once you enter a mining district) and he advised her to get $1,000 and visit him to get one.
Broomes explained that the warden, who is the mines officer of the area, would have gone to the shop because he got word that Broomes and her team were heading into the area.
The next day, the shop owner woke them up early and told them to go and hide as persons were coming and she gave them water and cigarettes. They were afraid to go too deep into the bush and while they were on their way they met Broomes and her members.
They jumped at the opportunity to leave the area when they were given the choice, even though the shop owner verbally abused them and at one point even refused to hand over the child’s clothes.
At present, the child is living in a house owned by her grandmother, but while an aunt and cousins also live there, she has to fend for herself.
She recalled that when she was rescued she was initially placed in the Mahaica Home and she had repeatedly requested to leave as she was not getting enough to eat. “I have sweet mouth. I like eat and sometimes is just like one meal a day,” she said. At one point, she also lost some money she had received from Broomes and it was only after she created a verbal storm that the cash was returned.
“They end up making the decision that they guh sign me out to go home seeing that I crying I want go home. But when I do reach home now my aunty still with the nagging again and I start getting frustrated and say I want go back to the home.”
However, when she approached the Ministry of Human Services & Social Security she was informed that she could not return to the home. She was promised a stove and pot and some foodstuff. Days later, after these items were not forthcoming, she returned to the ministry. She was not allowed to see anyone but “they put two sardines and some white rice in a bag and send it down to me.”
Meantime, a troubled Broomes said she did not leave the child alone when she thought she was an adult and now she has found out she is a mere child, she definitely cannot leave her alone.
Broomes said the other victim who was rescued is now living in a drug yard with an abusive reputed husband, adding that it is heart rending that she cannot do more for the victims she rescues. The organisation hopes to raise some funds to pay for the adult victim, who once attended a private school and secured several CSEC subjects with good grades, to start the rehabilitation process.
“For me as president of the organisation, I just can’t bring these girls out and just forget about them… They sit and talk with me. I know them. I know their history, their needs while people just dismiss them…,” a sad Broomes said.
She decried the situation that has no mechanisms in place to give trafficking in person victims a second chance in life. She pointed out that there is urgent need for a home to be established specifically for these victims, catering for their specific needs, noting that the state can never really fight the scourge if the rescued victims are left to fall by the wayside.