Shocking findings uncovered in `skulking' campaign By Shirley Thomas
Guyana Chronicle
November 25, 2001

...girls in particular have been frequently engaged in sexual activities while their parents believed they were in school

AS THE campaign by the Ministry of Education task force aimed at stamping out truancy (skulking) among school-age children gathers momentum, officials have come up with some astonishing findings.

While the operation which started October 23 has scored some success, within the second week officials noted a worrying trend - the alarming frequency with which girls in particular have been engaged in sexual activities while their parents believed they were in school.

Investigations reveal that a large percentage of these teenagers leave home under the pretext of going to school in the mornings, but never show up there.

Some were said to have been found bus riding, or engaged in promiscuous behaviour with male partners in the Promenade Gardens and behind the seawall in Georgetown during low tide hours.

Some between the ages of 13 and 16 have been found locked in buildings with male persons, and others still said to be visiting hotels during school hours with celebrities "who should know better", according to one official.

There were a few cases where girls have been caught red-handed in illicit acts. One was said to have been found with hands and feet apart and bound while having sex with a male partner.

At least eight were picked up in the Promenade Gardens, and 15 found loitering in the Stabroek Market, claiming they were going to "Uncle"; others were in the company of 'known lesbians" and others still were found shoplifting and generally wandering.

A good many were taken off mini-buses while school was in session and even late at nights.

And with the help of the Police, who are also involved in the campaign, many conductors of mini-buses on which the girls have been found have been arrested and charged.

The official said there were even reports of substance abuse (drugs use) by girls.

Boys, on the other hand, have been found loitering at the back of the Stabroek Market wharf and Bazaar and in Nintendo shops. Sixteen were found in one Nintendo shop.

When contacted, many parents who would normally leave home for work before 08:00 hrs, ahead of their teenagers who have to get to school for 09:00 hrs, were astonished to learn that their children were not in school, and more so, of the activities in which they have been engaged.

Others still, in deep anguish, admitted that their child/children were indeed in the category of "problem children", and that they (the parents) have been employing all sorts of strategies aimed at bringing about a change in them, but without success.

Many of the children, when questioned claimed that they were engaged in these types of behaviour to get money.

According to the official, some seemed to be gripped by a lustful "fashion conscious" compulsion, and so where they had no access to money, fell easy prey to offers of "quick cash" or brand name designer clothing.

The common underlying factor seemed to be that the vulnerable groups were predominantly from single parent households - particularly where mothers were security guards and had to be away from home for long hours while the children went unmonitored.

What initially began as casual skulking from school, and later bus-riding, eventually developed into deep-rooted socially unacceptable behaviour - the shackles of which were difficult to throw off.

As a result it was found that when mothers have to be at work and away from the home at nights, as most female security guards now do, activities the children began during the day were carried over into the night.

This explains why some of the cases reported and investigated involved incest and triangular affairs involving daughters/mothers and fathers or stepfathers, the official said.

Invariably, stepfathers, one of whose primary functions in the home is to be a provider to complement the income of the mother, ends up abusing children in the home. And even when found, some mothers are reluctant to report the matter to the Police.

They fear that if he goes to jail, the income he provides will be taken away, or he will later get even with them on being released.

When discovered, one 13-year-old who was on drugs and in open sexual relations with boys, failed to show remorse and was openly defiant and abusive even to the officials. She sternly resisted arrest when approached by the Police.

One case dealt with was categorised as a 'child-of-the-street', as distinct from those children who are habitually absent from school, but live with their parents.

Having lived and worked on the streets for years, and with no place to call home, such children live under stalls in markets, sleep in boxes, and beg or steal to satisfy their basic survival needs. Such a child has no adult person responsible for him/her.

The task force official said that the child encountered expressed a genuine desire to get off the street and pursue a normal lifestyle once more, and was referred to the New Opportunity Corps, the reform home on the Essequibo Coast for young offenders.

Head of the task force, Mrs. Yvonne Arthur is concerned that even though there may be facilities such as Drop In Centres available locally where such children can go for a meal and venture back into the streets, such an approach will not solve the problem of bringing about a change or rehabilitation in their lives.

"These children need help. They need to know that people care, that someone is there for them and the society has not given up on them," she said.

She said that in most cases, the children are not out there because they are bad, but because of parental neglect.

"It has been found that many parents tend to give up on children too quickly," she said, adding that half the time the behaviour the children display reflects what they see daily.

The lifestyles of many parents who give up on their children, or eventually apply excessive force in trying to bring about a reform, are invariably not good examples for those children to follow, she noted.

And so, the Ministry of Education is moving to have these children taken from the homes of parents considered not capable of effective parenting.

"They are being placed in homes," she said, but declined to go into details.

Arthur said what is needed is the construction of a "Half Way Home" - a place where the children can be given counselling and remedial treatment.

It must be remembered that a place such as the New Opportunity Corps (NOC) would not be best suited for those children who are not in fact juvenile delinquents.

"The NOC has law breakers and children with delinquent behaviour."

She said that as far back as 1997 the Probation Department recommended the establishment of a Half Way Home, and it is now becoming increasingly clearer that such a facility is an absolute necessity.

The first part of the two-phase truancy campaign was intended to sensitise the public about the school children phenomenon.

It took a proactive approach and enlisted the cooperation of parents, employers, vendors and business persons, the media, the law enforcement forces and others.

The campaign has been successful from day one and many persons have been volunteering information on the whereabouts of truants, Arthur said.

That persons are being this cooperative, she said, is an indication that society is not blind or indifferent to such ills.

What was noted was that some observing persons would not dare report such information to the parents for fear they will meet with hostility, and even be abused by insensitive and irresponsible parents.

Phase two of the campaign commenced November 13 and is ongoing.

The 14-member team headed by Arthur, Coordinator of Schools Welfare Services, and including probation and welfare officers, teachers, volunteers, Police and members of the City Constabulary, has been working assiduously to arrest the problem and create a life of hope for the children who now seem ensnared - some of them at the crossroads.

[ please note: link provided by LOSP web site ]