Truancy campaign widens
Guyana Chronicle
November 30, 2001

>...43 more children found sexually or physically abused
`This is not because of poverty, the other categories of children, not because of their socioeconomic status, are (also) truant'
- acting Chief Education Officer, Mrs. Genevieve Whyte-Nedd
FORTY-THREE cases of sexually or physically abused children have been uncovered in the continuing campaign against truancy (skulking) by the Education Ministry in Georgetown, officials reported yesterday.

The findings announced at a news conference confirmed the report in the Chronicle Sunday that children skulking from school have been found in sexual encounters in hotels, gardens and other places in the city.

The truancy campaign started in Georgetown last month has recorded success in dealing with the problem, Education Minister, Dr. Henry Jeffrey reported and announced that similar operations will begin in four other regions before the end of this school term.

Coordinator of the campaign, Ms. Yvonne Arthur told reporters the other operations will begin next week in Region Six (East Berbice/Corentyne) and in Region Three (West Demerara/Essequibo Islands) in the first week of December.

The campaign in Region Seven (Cuyuni/Mazaruni) will begin soon and that in Region Nine (Upper Takutu/Upper Essequibo) is likely to start before the school term ends.

Arthur reported that the Georgetown campaign is progressing satisfactorily despite some constraints. Two campaigns were conducted Tuesday and Wednesday this week, she said.

She said officers are working on reports from all the regions about abused children and those not attending schools.

"So, the campaign is effective because people are calling in and we are responding. We are trying our best."

She added that earlier this week, the team visited 16 homes and hideouts and found children who were not attending or had never attended school.

A total of 43 children were identified who were physically and sexually abused and are now accommodated in an institution, she said.

They were medically examined and according to the Coordinator, the officers will have to continue their investigations and seek advice on whether to have the parents prosecuted.

One major constraint faced is cooperation from Ministry of Health officials, she said.

When the children are taken to the Georgetown Hospital, some of them are sick, physically abused and suffer from other illnesses.

"We have to take them to the hospital and when we get there, we are subjected to a lot of embarrassment", she reported.

Arthur referred to a situation when five children were taken to the hospital and admitted. The following day when she and the other social workers turned up to administer follow-up treatment, they were told that they had abandoned the children, which was very embarrassing to them.

Jeffrey said these matters can be worked out in a meeting with the relevant authorities.

"I think perhaps when you are attempting to impose on another institution which already has its plans, it must cause some problems and therefore one will have to be more systematic and perhaps discuss and provide some sort of planning...", he suggested.

Acting Chief Education Officer, Mrs. Genevieve Whyte-Nedd pointed out that it is perceived that only poor children or children within a particular category are truant, but said this is not the case.

"This is not because of poverty, the other categories of children, not because of their socioeconomic status, are (also) truant", she said.

She urged parents to be more vigilant by checking on the whereabouts of their children during school hours.

"The education sector alone cannot do this campaign, we depend on the Ministry of Health and we also depend heavily on the parents", Whyte-Nedd stated. (STACEY DAVIDSON)