Six months ago 27-year-old Shaneza Sampson’s young daughter was ripped out of her arms as she sat at the Piarco International Airport in Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) and hours later she was on a plane back to Guyana alone, separated from all three of her daughters.
Sampson’s husband had grabbed the baby after he was instructed to do so by immigration officials at the airport and it was on the second try that he succeeded. She was then placed in a cell and later returned to her land of birth. Three months later, the distraught mother attempted to gain entry to the country once again but was again turned back.
In desperation she turned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but while the official she spoke to “was kind and she listen to me” all that was offered was a promise to make contact with the consulate in Trinidad. The Rose Hall resident said she called the ministry several times but the official was never available and on her one trip to the city she was not in office.
She has also reached out to President David Granger and First Lady Sandra Granger through Facebook but she has not received any response.
The young mother’s only wish is to be reunited with her daughters: Mikayla, 7; Attia, 5 and Shania 2, who are now living with their father in T&T.
At the age of 18 Sampson left Guyana for that country with the hope of making a better life and for a while, she said, things were good. When her work permit expired, it was not renewed, but she remained in the country.
In 2008, she met the man she eventually married and by the next year she was pregnant with their first child, but by then there were already signs of trouble.
“In 2010, I decided to come back to Guyana… I was illegal in the country and I found out I was pregnant with my second child,” she told the Sunday Stabroek recently.
Her then partner later followed her and they rekindled the relationship. The following year she decided to return, to T&T but was refused entry.
At that point, the young woman said, she accepted her fate and decided to remain in her homeland and raise her two children. However, her partner wanted the child to be born in Trinidad, so he visited Guyana for a second time and married her. A pregnant Sampson and their young daughter returned to Trinidad with him and she was allowed entry because they were married.
Even though she worked and her husband at the time was training to be a police officer, they faced hard times which got worse when they became pregnant with their third child.
“He did not want the child and took me to a doctor that does abortion and I just walk out and leave him right there…,” she recalled.
Eventually they were forced to go and live at her husband’s family home, which was shared with extended family members and this added more pressure on a union that was already shaky.
“By then he had somebody else and I was being emotionally abused it was just too much for me… Things were getting worse and people were telling me things…,” she related.
The young mother said she tried to assist with taking care of the children with the meagre salary she got as her husband focused on paying the bills.
But weeks after their third child was born on March 19, 2014 the relationship effectively came to an end and a battle between the two commenced in and outside of the courts which ended with her baby being snatched from her arms.
She recalled that she was on the phone with her sister and had indicated she wanted to leave and return to Guyana because the pressure was too much. At the same time she was nursing the baby and her husband approached her and started an argument. As he was attempting to take her phone from her, his belt buckle made contact with the infant’s head leaving a mark.
The other children started to scream and there was a commotion alerting his mother who took her son out of the room. Sampson said she used the opportunity to take the child to the hospital as she was fearful for her health and it was while she was at the institution that she received a call from her aunt. “She said my husband with he mother and the two older girls went to her home and tell her I am no longer welcomed in the home and I must find somewhere else to stay.”
Sampson said she tried to make it on her own with just the baby as she attempted to gain custody of the two older children. At one point they had three court matters, one that dealt with maintenance, a restraining order since he had allegedly threatened her and the custody matter.
In the process, the children, who were attending a private school, were kicked out because of unpaid fees. Eventually, the children were with her, but were not in school. Sampson explained that she attempted to enroll them in the public school system, but because by that time she was illegal she was unable to do so.
The tug of war between the couple continued for months and Sampson said she eventually was forced to live in a “deplorable” apartment because she found it hard to manage and it was at this point that the two older children were forcibly removed from her care by her husband.
“It was embarrassing because he came with police and went in the apartment and took out pictures of the place…,” Sampson said adding that she was not at home at the time.
Eventually, after agonizing weeks of not seeing or hearing from her children, Sampson said, with the help of a friend—Luanna Marcelle—she approached the police and they came to an agreement that she would keep the baby, who was still breastfeeding, and she would see the older girls on weekends. He also enrolled the children in school.
“And then the court ruled that he should get the girls and things got harder and harder and I decided to return to Guyana.”
She was doing so with the baby but was stopped by immigration when she went to uplift the child’s passport and her husband was called in. The young mother said she was placed in a cell before being taken to a safe house through the kind assistance of an officer where she stayed for some time with the baby.
During that time her husband sent her threatening letters and taunted her that eventually he would also gain custody of the baby. In July 2015, she again attempted to leave Trinidad with the baby but was prevented from doing so as the officials informed that she had no proof that she could take care of the child while in Guyana.
After a few months she returned and was allowed entry because of the ongoing court matter and was allowed access to her children who spent some time with her. Eventually the custody matter was dismissed after the couple came to an agreement through mediation which involved her having the baby and being allowed access to the older ones on the weekends.
However, she was still illegal in the country and her husband informed her that he had written a letter to officials halting the residency application that he had commenced for her. Sampson said she returned to Guyana and would chat with her older girls via skype but she missed them and made another attempt six months ago to return to Trinidad.
It was this time that the baby was forcibly taken from her and she was denied entry since the court matter had been resolved. Three months later she attempted to gain entry but was again denied.
Her husband takes the children to her aunt every Sunday she video chats with them but the young mother said it was very hard for her not to be with her children.
“I just want my children. I don’t care if it is in Guyana or Trinidad I just want to be with my children,” the young mother said.
She appealed to the government to assist her and said her decision to speak to the media was not just for her but for other mothers who are going through the same thing. “This is just about my children and wanting to see them nothing else…,” she pleaded.