More shocking findings in `skulking' campaign
- little girls sexually molested by 68-year-old father By Shirley Thomas
Guyana Chronicle
December 30, 2001

`Pathetically, the amazing thing is the high rate of incest and other forms of physical and sexual abuse' - Ms. Yvonne Arthur, Coordinator, Schools Welfare Service

AMONG the first findings were young girls skipping school to engage in sexual encounters with young and not so young men in and around the city.

Now the special Education Ministry task force trying to track down school-age children not attending school has uncovered more horror stories, including fathers sexually molesting their little daughters.

Officials reported Friday that they this month uncovered incestuous relationships between a 68-year-old father and his four daughters aged 10 years, six years, four years and one year.

Welfare Officers said they were shocked at the discovery.

Another case uncovered in the same neighbourhood involves a father allegedly having carnal knowledge of three of his daughters. That matter is engaging the attention of the police, officials of the truancy (skulking) campaign said.

They also discovered an eight-year-old girl who was the victim of serious physical abuse and was reportedly constantly beaten with a fan belt by her father. That matter was reported to the police and the girl has since been taken to hospital for treatment, they said.

Despite hiccups, the assessment session Friday found that the campaign has been a success, and by the end of the Christmas school term some 116 children had been picked up, and help rendered.

During this month, 23 children were rounded up in Georgetown. Eighteen were placed in institutional homes, one sent to the New Opportunity Corps correctional facility, and most reintroduced into the schools system.

Five parents are before the courts; the man who was earlier found having intercourse with a schoolgirl with her hands and feet tied to a bed is also before the courts and police are investigating three other cases with a view to instituting charges of physical and sexual abuse, officials reported.

Another man has been charged with having carnal knowledge of a 14-year-old girl.

SWS Coordinator, Ms. Yvonne Arthur said, "Pathetically, the amazing thing is the high rate of incest and other forms of physical and sexual abuse."

She reported that because of the continuous negligence on the part of the heads of two households, six other children have never been registered for acceptance to school.

It was also found when Regional Welfare Officers met ministry officials for the evaluation and planning seminar in Georgetown Friday that, particularly in the hinterland, many children are kept out of schools simply because they do not have birth certificates.

The ministry is moving to swiftly address this.

Officials responding to information given on the SWS hotline 225-0686, found the hapless four girls in the custody of their 68-year-old father. The mother lives in the same home and never reported the abuse to the authorities, they said.

According to reports, when officials arrived at the home, the 10-year-old who first spotted the vehicle ran out to the team begging them to take her and her sisters away. She begged them not to let her father abuse her four-year-old sister, as he was doing her.

However, medical examinations revealed that the four-year-old had already been violated, as had the six and one-year-old, the officials said.

But while members of the task force are concerned at the incident, they are equally outraged over what they referred to as the "insensitive and highly irresponsible" behaviour of a policeman who reportedly seems to favour the father having his way, and regaining custody of the children who have since been placed in a home for abused children.

Officials complained that following the discovery, the matter was reported to the police station in the district where the family live and although the man was apparently charged and released on bail, he has since been frequenting the Welfare Office, insisting that he should get his children back.

Arthur appealed to the police and hospital authorities to give full co-operation to the programme if it is to achieve the desired level of success.

She noted that in some cases some policemen are even reluctant to institute charges, leaving other persons to come to conclusions.

She also pointed to a degree of insensitivity on the part of persons identified at the Georgetown Hospital who have not been compassionate and sufficiently helpful when victims of abuse are taken to the hospital for examination and treatment.

She recalled cases when, even though it was indicated to the staff the nature of the problem, and request made to facilitate speedy attention, they were either ignored, scoffed at, and invariably ended up joining long lines and having to wait for almost an entire day before being attended to.

This attitude was considered uncooperative, particularly since the SWS is working with limited manpower, and many of the persons who take children to hospital are rendering voluntary service.

Preparing the officers for the road ahead, Permanent Secretary in the Education Ministry, Mr. Hydar Ally stressed that the SWS has got to take on a proactive, rather than a reactive role, if it is to be effective.

He called on Schools Welfare Officers to redouble their energies and see themselves as missionaries for change in the business of impacting on children the value of education.

Outlining the role ahead for the officers whose primary responsibilities in the ensuing months would seem to be stamping out truancy and beefing up regular attendance at school, Ally said, "This is a mission, and we have to be change agents and see ourselves as missionaries."

He said the service has a duty to inspire and motivate children and see to it that they take advantage of the opportunity for them to attend school, and benefit from the education system being placed at their disposal.

Reflecting on the impact of the SWS in a few short months, particularly in relation to uncovering and working at eliminating truancy, he congratulated the officers for a job well done.

Ally commended Arthur highly for her selfless efforts at trying to bring the situation under control, and working with Welfare Officers and other members of the Task Force within the regions.

Pointing to the progress in stemming truancy since the commencement of the campaign in October, he said: "Ms. Arthur has made a lot of difference since the campaign began."

The Friday seminar was held under the theme: "Towards a more effective Schools Welfare Service" and was attended by some 10 Regional Welfare Officers from across the country.

Other resource persons were Arthur; Education Administrator, Mr. Owen Allen and Chief Personnel Officer, Mr. Trevor Thomas.

Phase One of the campaign launched on October 23, entailed a 'street and media' approach, aimed at sensitising the public that the ministry was aware of the problem, and intends stamping it out.

On that occasion, 14 boys and 16 girls who should have been in school and were not were taken off the streets in Georgetown.

As the campaign gathered momentum, officials came up with some astonishing findings.

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 revealed 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.

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.

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.

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