It is not enough. It is not anywhere near enough for the Mayor and City Council (M&CC) to dismiss the two City Constabulary officers who were implicated in the sexual assault of a vulnerable 15-year-old child, which occurred in August. According to what has been published in this newspaper, one of the dismissed constables is the alleged perpetrator of the assault and the other reportedly witnessed it, but was complicit in his silence as he did nothing about it until some time after.
Reports that the alleged perpetrator had been accused of a similar act last year raises questions as to whether the City Constabulary had been harbouring a predator. Some of the questions which arise are how much did the powers that be know about the accused’s alleged predilection and whether a blind eye had been turned to it before.
Lest we forget, this section of the M&CC has for years been accused of overlooking the alleged sexual harassment of female officers by senior male counterparts, the alleged sexual harassment of female vendors as well as forms of discrimination against female officers. But there is context. Surely no one has forgotten the saga involving now-sitting councillor Winston Harding, who had been charged with child molestation. The matter had been brought to the attention of his party, the APNU+AFC coalition, prior to the holding of local government elections last year. However, Mr Harding was stoutly defended by Minister of Public Health Volda Lawrence, who at that time held the Social Protection portfolio. Two days before the election, the coalition publicly announced that it had withdrawn its support for Mr Harding. However, he still contested and won his seat, which he has since held. The Guyana Elections Commission had said that the question of whether he took up the seat was a moral and political one for the party, but it was not a legal one. The issue was subsequently overtaken by more dollars and cents matters, like the imposition of the parking meter system. It has not been forgotten.
As regards the present situation, it is worrying that officers of the City Constabulary seem to have a mandate to arrest and detain minors for wandering. How is this possible when the unit has no suitable detention centre for children? How many times has this happened in the past? Just who is looking out for the rights of the city’s children? Clearly no one, as it has been claimed that the child was charged and appeared before a magistrate, who saw it fit to remand him back into the custody of the constabulary.
Then, Town Clerk Royston King, who seems happy to have his finger in every pie as long as it does not involve solving the city’s problems, compounded the monstrousness of what was occurring by interviewing the 15-year-old, reportedly in the presence of other council officials. It is beyond astounding that at no time, not one of these adults saw it fit to place a call to the Child Care and Protection Agency or the police or take the child to the hospital, in the face of the allegation and reports that were made. This was not even done after the child’s guardian refused to accept him back in the home, telling members of the City Constabulary that he was “causing problems”.
Everything points to this 15-year-old being troubled, yet in the face of an alleged crime being committed against him, he was offered no assistance and might even have been treated like a criminal or worse, threatened. This is a shameful episode for which the entire M&CC should hang its head in collective shame. Chief Constable Andrew Foo and the M&CC have also both been delinquent in relation to the law as the person accused of the assault should also have been arrested and handed over to the police to be charged. There was, after all, a witness.
The series of shocking events that occurred between August 17, when the child was arrested and today are a sad indication of a poor calibre of persons in authority at City Hall. No child deserves this level of mistreatment and callous lack of concern by adults who ought to know better.
Meanwhile, the alleged sexual assault is but a mere glimpse of the massive injustice meted out to children who are detained for wandering. As has been said ad nauseam in this column, when children run away or are to be found living on the streets, it is symptomatic of a problem in the home where they reside. The possibilities of what could be wrong are endless, but in many cases, in stories often told by the children themselves, there is some form of abuse involved, it could be physical, sexual, mental, emotional or neglect. Children who are cared for, listened to and understood at home do not run away. Furthermore, in most other countries when a child runs away from home, he or she is not charged with an offence when found.
There have been countless entreaties made by stakeholders and concerned persons for government to outlaw wandering. These have been ignored by this and previous administrations, which all the while have offered lip service to how much they care for the nation’s children.
What has been done so far is not enough. There must be serious repercussions for all involved in the events referred to above if our children are ever to be safe. Government needs to step in here and crack the whip where necessary. Finally, rather than talk about how children are valued, show it by urgently taking a special bill to the House as soon as possible to repeal wandering and allow troubled children to get the help they so desperately need.