Police in Berbice are seeking to determine if a 12-year-old girl, who has been missing since mid-June, may have been abducted by human traffickers.
The mother of the girl believes that she is being held captive after a claim by one of her daughter’s schoolmates, who went missing for a month, that they were both abducted and taken to Berbice River camps, where they were sexually abused by their captors.
However, police say the daughter’s schoolmate, 13, has given them conflicting accounts. ‘B’ Division Commander Lyndon Alves said the girl has changed her story about where she was and as a result, a confrontation is to be held for the police to determine how to proceed to locate the missing child.
This newspaper was told that investigators had detained one person for questioning sometime back as part of the investigation.
The Ministry of Social Protection, which was alerted to the case after the Prime Minister’s representative in Region Six Gobin Harbhajan was approached for help, has been in contact with the families of both girls.
The mother of the missing girl told Stabroek News that her daughter went missing on the afternoon of June 16, when she left home and headed to her grandmother’s house. The girl subsequently left her grandmother’s house on the same day, on the pretext of going to purchase icicles. She was last seen standing at the head of her grandmother’s street.
According to the woman, the next day a missing person report was filed at the New Amsterdam Police Station and a search was launched for her daughter. However, she stated that she later learned that a friend of her daughter had also gone missing on the same day but returned about one month afterward. She said she made contact with the young girl, who told her that a woman from the New Amsterdam Market had lured her away.
The 13-year-old, who spoke with this newspaper, has claimed that on June 16, she went to the market to collect items and the woman told her to accompany her to collect some money for her (the teen’s) father. She said she went with the woman into a car and they travelled to somewhere in Kortberaad Village, East Bank Berbice. According to the teen, there she saw a man, who she later learned was the woman’s son, on a motorcycle. He was armed with a gun.
The girl said the man on the motorcycle then took her and the woman to Mara Village, where a boat with another one of the woman’s sons was waiting. It was there that the teen says she saw the missing girl. “Them had she hands and foot tie up,” she said.
The girl said the boat then took them “up the Berbice River.”
“We left afternoon time and reach ’til in the night,” she said.
The teen said there were two camps at the Berbice River, where the men allegedly plant cannabis. She said that they were sexually abused.
She added that she overheard that other girls were present at the camp before her and her schoolmate.
On many evenings, she said, while the men were asleep, they attempted to escape with the boat but were not successful.
The girl added that at one point the men decided to separate them, holding her in one camp and her schoolmate in another.
She also said they were not fed until dinner each day, when they would receive a tennis roll and water.
However, according to the teen she was rescued some one month after being kidnapped. “Me father does sell market and like he hear things and police come in and them save me. But one a de lady son grab [the missing girl] and run in the bush and the police and so na search, them just bring me out,” she said.
The girl says her family is reluctant to speak with the police or the missing girl’s relatives because they are scared that their former captors may return to harm them.
Meanwhile, the mother of the missing girl said she was frustrated at the response of the police and she called on them to intensify their investigation. The woman said after she received the information from her daughter’s schoolmate, she took her to the police to give statements and begged them to visit the area where her daughter was reportedly held. However, she says they told her that the engine of the police’s boat was not working. “I tell them me go pay and hire one boat fa go and they say them go safe with them own boat,” she said. “Unto this day me can’t hear nothing, me don’t know what happen to my daughter,” she added.
The Ministry of Social Protection, in a statement issued this afternoon, said it takes seriously any case of alleged trafficking in persons that has been reported to the ministry. It noted that it was contacted about the alleged case in Berbice area and is in close contact with the officers in the district to ensure the safety of those involved is a priority.
The statement also noted that the ministry advocates that in the interest of victims all matters be reported to relevant authorities to facilitate the trained officers do their work effectively.