Three years ago Minette (not her real name) was among four teenagers who were rescued from the Oko Backdam, Region 7, where they were being trafficked by Candacy Anderson and her husband. Today at age 18 she is looking to the future hoping that she would be given a second chance in life.
It has been nine months since the teenager was released from the Mahaica Children’s Home and after she was initially taken in by her paternal grandmother she is now practically homeless. While details about her departure from her grandmother’s residence are conflicting with allegations being made by both individuals, one thing is certain and that is Minette wants a second chance in life.
Minette is very skilled at hairdressing and that is the profession she hopes to one day take up, but first she needs a stable home environment and continued support. The 18-year-old told the Sunday Stabroek in a recent interview that life at the Mahaica home was not a bed of roses but she stuck it out as she did want to return to the interior which was the only other alternative which seemed available to her.
The sixth of 12 children, life from the beginning was hard for the teenager and living in a depressed environment meant that things were ten times worse. She does not remember the first time she had sex but by the time she was 14 she had already made two trips into the interior, taken by unscrupulous adults who made her worked as a prostitute.
It was back in April 2012 Minette and the three other girls were rescued from a shop in the backdam just days after they were taken there by Anderson and her reputed husband Wesley Hart, where they were told they would have to work as sex workers instead of in the shop as they had been initially promised.
All the teenagers – Minette at 15 was the eldest of the group – were recruited from one area by a man who promised them large sums of money. The girls all left without their parents’ permission but were never too bothered about an all points bulletin being put out for them as they were not in school and were being made to fend for themselves.
According to President of the Guyana Women Miners Organisation (GWMO) Simona Broomes the community in which Minette lived is one where many ‘pimps’ visit to recruit young girls to be trafficked in the interior. She recalled that after the organisation helped to rescue the children she visited the area and was appalled to see how many young girls visit the rum shops and other venues where they would be approached by adult men.
“I sat there and watched these girls in these shops and so on and it broke my heart…it is right there the pimps would go and find these girls and traffic them; it is just wicked and something has to be done,” an upset Broomes told this newspaper.
It could have been this coupled with the fact that her mother lives in a one-bedroom house with a stepfather who smokes drugs that forced Minette to remain in the children’s home. She admits that she had initially escaped from the facility but after a few days of ‘freedom’ she returned to the Ministry of Human Services & Social Security and begged to be returned to the home.
“I just decide to stay; things was not always good but I say leh me stay because I didn’t want go back in the bush and I know me mother can’t take care of me,” she said matter-of-factly during the interview.
In the end she was the only one that remained, and while there according to Head of the Child Care & Protection Agency Ann Greene Minette’s conduct was exemplary and she was top of the craft classes and other activities she was involved in.
Minette also endured the many court dates and testified against Anderson and Hart who were eventually convicted and sentenced to five years in prison last year. However, the couple appealed the matter and have been granted bail and are now back in the interior.
Unfortunately, she was unable to attend hairdressing classes nor did she attend any academic classes, and for Broomes that would have given her a better shot at life. However, once Minette is settled the GWMO President said that her organisation would assist her in pursuing her dream of becoming a professional hairdresser.
The teenager does not want to think about the fact that the couple have not yet been punished for their crimes. Even after three years she is still shaken up when relating her experience. She recalled how after they were taken from Berbice to a West Bank location the couple lined them up before one of their sons and told him to choose whichever one he desired to spend the night with.
It was Minette he chose, and she was forced to have sexual intercourse with the young man and spent an entire night with him.
During the trial she recounted how even though she was in her menstrual cycle Anderson forced another girl to “put up a panty liner in me like a tampon so I could go and dance fuh dem man she had at the shop.” She was very sick yet the woman was insistent that she “serve a customer.”
“I remember one a dem girls had runny ears and it was smelling and Candacy tell she how she gat leak (a sexual transmitted disease) and that she must leave the camp. I had to tell she how deh girl ain’t get no leak and that is she ears and is when she look and see then she tell the girl she could stay,” Minette recounted.
She stuck up for the teenager because she was just 14 and she was afraid of what would have happened to her if she was forced to leave the camp.
But Minette first needs somewhere to live and she admits that she was initially offered a place at the human services ministry’s halfway house designed for young adults who are too old for the children’s home. Greene explained that those who live in the house have some freedom, but must adhere to some rules, and must be working or going to school.
And for those who are going to school or attending some form of course they would be provided with a stipend and travel allowance.
Minette does not say clearly why she did not accept the offer to stay at the house; it could have been that she baulked at the idea of living in another ‘home’ or maybe she felt living with relatives would have been better. But nine months later she knows that this last was just a fairytale since she has practically nowhere to live and just a few pieces of clothes in her possession.
Greene told the Sunday Stabroek that the space at the halfway home is still available and she hopes that she would take it up as those who worked with her want her to have a second chance in life.
“She was well behaved at the home, she never gave any problem and we would hate to see all of this just go to waste.
“We are disappointed but we still believe there is hope and the best place for her is at the halfway house,” Greene said.
She pointed out that while the young people who live at the house are adults and allowed to date they would still have to ensure that those in authority and at the home are aware of the individuals they are dating and would have to abide by the curfew rule.
Minette is just one of the many girls that the GWMO has rescued in its short existence whose future remains unsure. But Broomes said she would encourage Minette to take up the ministry’s offer to live at the halfway house as she would still have some amount of independence and have free accommodation.
Broomes said that by next year the GWMO with assistance from the Sisters of Mercy and the Catholic community would open the doors of its home geared specifically to care for victims of trafficking.
She said that it pains her heart to rescue and not be able to give them a real chance to improve their lives.
She said Minette like all the other victims endured horrific experiences, and most believe that life offers them nothing better, hence they return to the interior to be re-trafficked. For Broomes what is worse is that most of the victims of trafficking that her organisation has seen over the years are very young and most would have passed through the system that is designed to assist them.
“They are failed by the system first and foremost and then when they are rescued the system continues to fail them and that is my biggest concern,” she said.