Minister of Youth, Dr Frank Anthony on Wednesday said there had been no report or any evidence that there had been sexual abuse by staff members of juveniles at the New Opportunity Corps facility at Onderneeming.
At a press conference, the Minister was replying to allegations in sections of the media that runaways from the correctional facility had alleged sexual abuse by staffers.
A statement from the Ministry reported the Minister at the press conference as saying that no report and evidence was provided pointing to any form of sexual abuse by staff members and at no time were male students sent to assist in bringing back female absconders.
In the statement, Anthony also called on parents and inmates of the NOC to report such acts. He emphasized that getting the police involved is also crucial.
“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 said. He added that the complaints do not have to be made to the Ministry but they can be forwarded to the Police so that they can do their investigations. He pledged that the ministry will co-operate fully with such investigations.
While the Minister denied the claims of sexual abuse at the NOC, he did relate ongoing problems at the institution while noting that even though it was a juvenile correctional facility it does not look like one and the inmates were not treated as prisoners. He noted that there was no fence and security is at the minimum.
“Because of how the place is situated a child can easily walk off the premises and escape,” he said. He said that the last time such an incident occurred was on the 22nd March, 2014 when a female student started to use indecent language, loudly and aggressively in the female Dormitory. The student along with three female students then ran past the perimeter fence.
He said that those students were pursued by two female supervisors who made efforts to stop the quartet from leaving the female’s compound but they continued. He said that shortly after, four male students ran after the female students to the densely forested backlands of the NOC.
Anthony said that these incidents were reported to the Police and the parents of the runaway children were also notified because in some cases the students return to their homes. He added that a team of male and female staff members went in search of these students.
On March 24, 2014, he said that another team of staff members comprising both males and females were able to locate the camp site of the absconded students and were able to find them. The female students were taken to the Medical Centre where they were examined and were then referred to the Suddie Public Hospital, the statement said.
All eleven students- (7 boys) and (4 girls ) were then taken to the Suddie Police Station, he said. From this number it appeared that three other boys had also run away from the facility. The Minister said that the matter is engaging the Suddie Magistrate’s Court. He said that three males are in custody at the Suddie police station while four male students and four female students are at the Juvenile Holding Centre- Sophia awaiting the Court’s decision.
The Minister added that staff members were threatened and verbally abused by some parents and guardians after the last Court hearing on April 17, 2014.
In August of 2012, there was a mass breakout from the NOC followed by disturbances during which fires were allegedly set by some of the juveniles. Forty-six of the juveniles between the ages of 14 and 18 years were charged with various offences relating to the disturbances at the facility. A report was commissioned into the disturbances but 18 months later its findings are still to be released to the public.