Better protection, services needed for vulnerable children

Dr. Vindhya Persaud

The Child Care and Protection Agency (CCPA) is not doing enough in terms of ensuring that children who are removed from abusive situations are not returned to the same environment and further abused, according to head of the Guyana Hindu Dharmic Sabha Dr Vindhya Persaud.

The Sabha opened a children’s home—the Bal Nivas—in Port Mourant, Berbice in 2014 and according to Dr Persaud, she has seen at least two cases where children were returned to the same abusive environment.

“These children come in bad shape, sometimes severely malnourished, withdrawn and suffering from all the effects of abuse and neglect and you have gotten them to a point and they go right back into the situation,” Persaud told the Sunday Stabroek in a recent interview.

And while there are counsellors, Persaud said, they are overburdened and it is too much for them. At times they have to pay their own transportation to visit the various locations and she noted that “it is rough on them.”

She has been tapping in to other resources to help to supplement the scarcity, but she said some of the children need more such as child psychologists who are not available. However, she acknowledged that there has been a turnaround in some cases and there have been instances of children being adopted by persons overseas, but she suggested that more intervention be done in terms of counselling because they need it.

There are other deep-rooted issues that have to do with adults that are involved and Persaud suggested a multi-pronged approach to address the growing problem of abuse, which has seen alcohol and drug addiction, to a large extent, being contributing factors.

The Bal Nivas is a 65-bed residential facility which provides everything for the children during their stay and it does not receive a subvention from government.

The children are placed through the CCPA and its doors are opened to all children across Guyana who are below the age of 12. Currently, 36 children are housed there, but usually, per year, there is an average of about 30 children at any one time.

The children are expected to stay up to six months, but there are some who have been there from the inception. This, according to Persaud, is due to sloth at the CCPA, sloth in the family court getting to cases and not enough paperwork accompanying children.

Alcohol

Persaud is a PPP/C member of parliament, but for years, through the Sabha, she has been addressing the issue of alcohol abuse, saying that many children suffer because one or both parents are addicted to alcohol.

This may result in instances where there are about five children who are left to fend for themselves and end up on the road.

“When you deal with the children you hear the horrendous stories that would come out,” Persaud said, but she believes that not enough is being done to address the issue of alcohol abuse because people don’t see it as a big enough problem.

She pointed out that alcohol abuse results in losses to the economy because there are not enough productive working hours and there is a burden on health care as persons who are affected become a burden to the state from alcohol-related illness.

There are also not enough rehabilitation facilities for affected persons and in terms of government-created programmes there are not enough.

The Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC) mental health department sees persons “for everything, everything including drugs and alcohol.

“To me that is an overburden of the system and an overburden of the very few resource skilled persons. … [There needs to be] a special rehabilitation unit that deals with drugs and alcohol,” Persaud said.

She said while there are a few private institutions, these are costly. Added to which most of the services are centralized in Georgetown.

Another problem is the lack of trained personnel to deal with persons who are addicted to alcohol and drugs.

Persaud said there needs to be more community outreach on the issue and she makes a point to do it on radio and television and whenever the opportunity arises as persons need to be told that it is a problem and should not just be accepted.

She said there are creative ways that can be utilized to address the problem and more positive voices are needed to speak out and interface with young people and there is also a need for counsellors in schools to speak to children.

She recalled that she had spoken out against bars at Hindu weddings and she received a lot of flak as people questioned who she was to tell them not to drink.

She said while alcohol abuse has been a problem in Guyana for a very long time what is being seen is a progression from pockets of places where alcohol abuse was rampant to a more widespread type of situation accompanied by the use of prohibited drugs.

“What bothers me a lot is the easy gravitation of people of both genders towards both of these things,” Persaud said.

She pointed out that it is not a case of the country not having legislation, but there is not enough enforcement as it pertains to underage people purchasing alcohol, while there is no legislation as it pertains to alcohol being sold at ad-hoc functions where minors can easily access alcohol.

“That is something that I have seen very prevalent in the last eight years or more, it is a growing culture and more and more under-aged persons are consuming alcohol,” she noted.

As has been pointed out time and time again, Persaud noted, there continues to be easy access to alcohol as almost in every village there is more than one location where persons can access the substance and secondly there is no limit to how much a person can drink in Guyana.

An obviously inebriated person can go into a bar and access more alcohol and can also go behind the wheel of a car without anyone even attempting to stop him/her and this adds to the problem of road fatalities.

Erosion

Alcohol abuse, Persaud said, causes the erosion of the home environment. She believes that many persons turn to alcohol because there is little for people to do outside of work especially in rural communities.

Even if there are activities in some areas, there is the constraint of the lack of finances to access same and alcohol is then seen as an outlet.

To resolve this, she suggested that more attention should be paid to what is offered to people after their working hours and what they can do after hours to develop another skill or anything about themselves that can be utilized for financial benefit or to just de-stress. The options for young people should be looked at separately as employment continues to be a problem as the last figures showed some 40% of the population being unemployed and with the recent retrenchment of sugar workers this would definitely go up.

People use drugs and alcohol many times to bury their problems and depression and as a medical doctor Persaud said she always asked patients if they consume alcohol and most would say sociably but when further questioned it would be revealed that they consume large amounts of alcohol.

“So when they start there is nothing inside of them to say they can stop and so they cannot curtail their drinking and when they go out with friends they buy a round and then another round and then it goes on and on,” she said.

During her time at the hospital, Persaud said, she spoke to many patients on the wards who were suffering from alcohol related illness and they all said that once they were in the hospital they could not work and family and friends and no longer visited them.

Many do not want to talk about alcohol because they see it as a cultural issue and would always point out that Guyana was always this way and question who are persons to say that they shouldn’t drink or that they are drinking too much.

But while alcohol is legal, Persaud said, the use of illicit drugs is creeping into many communities and many times there are violent crimes committed which have drug abuse as a contributing factor. Drugs are also creeping into schools and at school events where there is very little control and young people find creative ways of getting them into the compounds.

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