Months later… Still no charges in cases of abuse at New Opportunity Corps

More than two months after Crime Chief Leslie James had indicated that charges were likely to be laid against some employees of the New Opportunity Corps (NOC) following a probe into sex and physical abuse allegations made by four former residents of the institution no one has been charged and placed before the courts.

The delay in instituting charges may frustrate the victims, sources have said, as they may assume no one believes them. The Sunday Stabroek was unable to get an update from James but last week he had indicated that the investigation was near completion; however, no further update has been given on the status of the investigation.

While the allegations were made months ago the authorities only became involved when the parents of the girls made a formal complaint at the Child Care & Protection Agency which in turn applied to the High Court for the victims to be removed from the institution. The order was granted and the girls were released into the care of the agency and they remain there while work is being done to build their self-esteem and give them an opportunity to pursue some formal studies.

More details have been revealed into the allegations levelled against three male employees of the NOC. This newspaper has been reliably informed that sex abuse allegations had been made against a young teenager who was hired by the institution to teach information technology and it is believed that he struck up relations with at least one of the girls who is under the age of sixteen. The teenager is not believed to be on staff presently and was only there for a short period of time. However, two males with years of service at the institution also have damming allegations made against them as one is accused of physical abuse and the other of sexual abuse. Reports are that the girls have alleged that one of the men had them “touching him in a certain manner” which amounted to him abusing them sexually.

The girls had reported to their parents that they were treated horribly in what they called the “detention room” at the facility—described as the “quiet room” by officials—where they have said that apart from being placed in the room for days almost naked, they were also denied food and forced to defecate and urinate in a bucket that remained in the room unemptied.

There are also reports of a special hose being used to administer corporal punishment and of regular cavity searches being conducted.

The allegations came following the March escape of several residents from the institution for which they were all charged. The four girls had had alleged that they were forced to have sex with some male residents who had found their hideout and took food for them during the two days they managed to avoid recapture.

 

Left

And even as the troubles continue at the institution, recently 19 juveniles escaped but returned voluntarily the next day and were later placed before court. This is according to Davinand Ramdat formerly of the Ministry of Culture, Youth & Sport who had direct responsibility for the institution, and who has since left the job.

Ramdat when contacted by this newspaper said that he resigned his position as the Assistant Director of Youth at the ministry earlier this month and now works at Freedom House.

Ramdat told the Sunday Stabroek that he has already collected a letter stating that his letter of resignation had been accepted. His resignation became effective on August 5.

He explained that he was not in direct control of the NOC: “I was not in the day-to-day management,” he said, explaining that he had oversight responsibility for the NOC and other centres, including the Kuru Kuru College.

He said that there is a management structure in place at the NOC that handles the day-to-day operations of the institution, comprising a senior training officer, an admin manager and centre administrator; “Those three people are responsible for the day to day management of the NOC.”

He went on to say that as the Assistant Director for Youth, a position he held from 2010, his responsibilities included taking policy directives from the ministry and sharing them with the NOC: “I am not the man on the ground.”

Asked about what sparked his decision to leave and whether it had anything to do with the recent issues that had developed at the facility, Ramdat told this newspaper that he had signalled his intention to the ministry to leave. He noted that he wanted to leave long before these recent issues came to fore and he stressed that officials at the ministry were aware of his desire to resign.

He said that he feels and has always felt that “bright days” would come to the NOC. He said that he has invested a lot of time focusing on the institution to ensure that the children received “care and help.”

He confirmed that he did receive some training in the US which had been facilitated by the US Embassy, as it pertained to children’s issues. However, he said that training was not only about children who had come into contact with the law but children’s issues in general.

“My role was more than just focusing on NOC,” he said before thanking the US Embassy for giving him the opportunity to embark on such a venture.

He said that even though he had intentions of resigning, he did not turn down the offer as for him the areas that the training focused on were very close to him and his wish was to focus on capacity building, as this is something he feels he should always be looking for.

Asked about his new function at Freedom House and whether it may be in the same area as his previous job, he said that he believes that he now has a greater role in helping every Guyanese.

He said that he is thankful for his time at the NOC and for his accomplishments. He admitted that he had left several things there that were a work in progress including student counselling, a student code of conduct, capacity building for staff, a menu committee and areas relating to education including the writing of CXC.

According to Ramdat, he tried to improve the facility in “my own humble way.”

He opined that enough was not done to “adequately publicize as it relates to the good things that happen.” He said that if he could have done something differently that would have been one of the areas he would have focused on. Nevertheless, he expressed certainty that in time improvement at the facility would be seen. For now, he said, “I have an important role to play.”

Following a fire and mass breakout in 2012, a Board of Inquiry (BOI) was set up to investigate and the final report was recently completed and handed over to the Minister of Youth Dr Frank Anthony, who has said he would share its findings after going through it.

Preliminary findings had indicated that most of the officials working at the institution at the time were untrained and unqualified for the positions they held. Reports are that this situation remains the same currently and even Dr Anthony had admitted at a recent press conference that it is difficult to attract trained and qualified persons to work at the NOC.

Some observers have suggested that the entire institution should be closed down since it is not reforming the young people sent there, but Anthony has said plans are on stream to reform the facility and some of these include building separate facilities for the boys and girls.

And as recommended by the BoI in its preliminary report, the operations at the NOC are regularly inspected by a visiting team and soon parents would also be able to visit their children once a week.

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