The 15-year-old girl, who was rescued from an interior location earlier this year where she was being forced to work as a sex worker, is yet to be assisted by the state agency and while she accused officials of being unhelpful she in turn has been accused of having a bad attitude.
The child is now loath to return to the officials for help but according to Director of the Child Protection Agency Ann Greene, she needs to return and be placed in the Mahaica Shelter where she would be reassessed. She appealed to the child to return to the agency so she could be helped, since she could be treated as a juvenile delinquent if the police were to locate her and this is a situation Greene does not want.
The child was rescued by the Guyana Women Miners Organisation (GWMO) earlier this year, but it only recently emerged that she was just 14 at the time and not 20 as she had claimed. The child had detailed to Sunday Stabroek a tragic life that in her own words saw her drifting from “pillar to post”. She lost her mother at a tender age and has lived with various relatives which saw her being abused. A friend, with whom she lived, told her of a bartender job in the interior but when she arrived she was forced into sex work and had intercourse with up to five men a day at times.
During her time in the interior she became hooked on marijuana as she wanted to “smoke my troubles away.”
After her age was revealed, President of the GWMO Simona Broomes contacted the Ministry of Human Services & Social Security with the new information and the child was sent to the ministry for assistance. However, she decried the way she was treated by officials at the ministry and at the Child Protection Agency stating that she was treated badly and was even asked to sign a letter to the effect that she was refusing assistance from the ministry. She said she was also told that the agency could not accommodate her.
Contacted, Minister of Human Services & Social Security Jennifer Webster denied the child’s claim and said she disappeared without making a statement.
“That is not true, that is absolutely not accurate,” the minister said when told of the child’s claims. She later asked this reporter to send her an email with the claims.
The email was sent but when contacted the minister said she had some pressing issues to deal with and had not looked at it. She later sent the email to Greene who denied most of the child’s claims but said she could not address the issue of the letter as that did not take place at her agency and the official at the ministry who could respond has since proceeded on leave.
Greene told the Sunday Stabroek that because the child has been living as adult she cannot be placed in a children’s home but has to be returned to the Mahaica Home-where she was initially after she was rescued-and she would be reassessed.
She said the agency had placed a child in similar circumstances some time ago and “ran into some serious trouble.”
The agency head described the child’s attitude as being “very bad” but said they want to help and expressed the hope that maybe there is a family that is willing to foster her.
According to Greene, after she spoke to the child she said they “wrong talk and get up and fly out of here.”
She said understandably, because the child has been living as an adult for so long she would be annoyed if she is placed in a home with children and treated as a child and that is why she needs to return to the shelter where she “will be safe and have food.
“We want to help her. We are here to help but it might not be what she wants. The centre cannot refuse her. She has a terrible attitude but she has been living as adult for a while so we are not angry with her,” Greene stressed.
However, according to the child, when she visited the ministry she was confronted with the fact that she lied about her age which she accepted and it was indicated that she would have to be taken to the Child Care & Protection Agency.
“Her words to me as soon as I marched into the door was ‘No, no we can’t tek she here, you need to send she to Sophia juvenile centre because she can’t go in no children home because we ain’t know what she been doing on the road.’ So… with no disrespect I asked her, ‘What was I doing on the road? You tell me,’” the child recounted.
Greene denied the child’s claim and once again appealed to her to return so she could receive the necessary help.
The child said the way she was spoken to made her “feel real, real bad and you know she just down me whole spirit about changing me whole life and now I just feel like to do wah a feel like.
“All they mek I feel is like I stressing out everybody and I just have to do what I have to do,” the child said even though she was not clear what that is.
The child also alleged that officials at the ministry wrote a letter in which they stated that she refused assistance and then asked her to sign the letter but she told them no.
She said her aunt initially said she would have visited the ministry but later she said she was not interested and that she should contact her grandmother who is overseas.
The child said all she wants is a second chance in life and she kept saying that if her mother were alive she would not have been treated in such a manner. She still hopes that one day she might go back to school and learn as all she wants is “to be loved”.
Meanwhile, a frustrated Broomes pointed out that there has been talk about funding being given to the Guyana Government to provide support for victims of human trafficking and she questioned what sort of support is given. She pointed out that when she says that there is need for support for the victims she is being challenged but this is a classic example of a victim not receiving support.
“I am saying we need to stop burying our heads in the sand and let’s face the facts. They are not geared for trafficking in person victims; number one they don’t have the tolerance and I am really troubled…” she said.
“This is a child. She lied about her age, but many persons in her position would have lied,” Broomes said. She questioned why officials do not attempt to go the extra mile and secure the birth certificates of victims to ensure their ages are verified.
“Just like how she said she move from pillar to post living with relatives is just so she going from pillar to post for assistance through the state… You go to Human Services and they say you have to find a family who say they want you… This child who has no relative who wants to take care of her,” Broomes stressed.
The GWMO President said time and time again it is proven that no one cares for the victims of TIP, noting that when she found out the true age of the child she was grieved and is even more grieved now at the manner in which she is being treated.
“The system is saying to this child we don’t have no time with you, go back on the road be re-trafficked or do whatever you want because we can’t help you, you are an outcast,” Broomes said. “This is months since this child come out of the bush, many days she has nothing to eat… I don’t have to ask her if she has eaten, because what is she going to eat? So since I see her I have to start to provide for her.”
Broomes noted that the system has a responsibility to take care of the child as she is a Guyanese.
“The system is failing these girls, over and over again. This is just a common pattern… no one really cares and it is really, really ridiculous. That is why I am still saying there is need for a special home, not a shelter… for the victims of trafficking in persons to give them a second chance.”
The GWMO head said she is really trying to work with the system in the interest of TIP victims but sometimes she is very frustrated and it is more than a challenge. She said if her organisation was funded she would have ensured that TIP victims were given a chance to really live.
Still she is hoping to enrol the child in phonics classes where she would be taught to read and write and plans to contact a pastor for the child to have the long term counselling she needs.
“I cannot leave her and just forget about her, I owe it to her to help,” she said.
The woman who trafficked the child is yet to be charged.