Juveniles in custody

Stabroek News
December 21, 1999

The economic circumstances of Guyana have forced the government to make hard choices about how its meagre resources should be expended. It has been constrained too by the conditionalities which the donor institutions have imposed. These factors have contrived to dull the social consciousness of decision makers to such an extent that their protestations of concern for the poor and the powerless contrast sharply with their actions.

No incident more graphically demonstrates this than the case of the nine-year-old boy detained in the police lock-ups at Brickdam for two months. During this time, he was sexually abused by his adult companions within earshot of the police who did not to go to his aid. Maybe it was their way of forcing a confession out of him in connection with the report of animal stealing which they were investigating.

Were it not for the humanity and decency of the gentleman who brought the boy's plight to public attention he may still have been suffering at the hands of his tormentors.

The Minister of Home Affairs was stung into action by reports of the incident in the media and ordered the boy to be moved. But the Minister was involved in the practice of the law for many years. He must have been aware, if not from personal knowledge, from conversations with other members of his profession, of what goes on in the lock-ups around the country. Brickdam is no exception and in fact might be the worst, given the description of it by those who have had the misfortune to have been housed there.

In acquainting himself with his ministry, the minister would have learnt of the police's responsibility for ensuring that juveniles were not detained in the same facility as adults and young offenders. He would also have known of the closure of the Salvation Army facility because of the lack of staff, as well as the closure of a similar facility at Eve Leary by the police.

The Probation and Family Welfare Service has for years been requesting the establishment of a facility to house minors, and year after year it has been shunted aside because such a facility was not high on the government's agenda. According to reports, a multilateral institution has now stepped into the breach to assist in funding the establishment of such a facility.

The Minister of Human Services and Social Security, in whose portfolio the Probation and Family Welfare Service falls, despite protestations of concern, seems to have had her priorities misplaced in seeking spacious accommodation for a women's leadership centre rather than pressing for a detention facility for juveniles. The whole sorry episode reeks of a lack of thought in addressing the problem. Surely the professionals in the Human Services Ministry would have impressed on the Minister the need for such a facility and the need for a comprehensive policy which would ensure that the poor are not made to suffer such indignities because of a lack of resources.

Human services speaks not only to the politically catchy issues of gender rights, but encompasses the whole gamut of social issues. Now that the incident has been brought to light, what services are being offered by the Human Services Ministry to ensure that not only the physical pain but the psychological damage done to the little boy is minimised? What of the police? Isn't the Minister going to hold some officer responsible? And what of the case in connection with which the little boy was detained? Have the Sherlock Holmeses of Brickdam and Eve Leary solved it yet?

The Minister of Human Services and Social Security needs to press her colleagues for the necessary resources. If there is a bankruptcy of ideas in her ministry there is no reason why the University of Guyana and the Guyana Association of Professional Social Workers cannot be pressed into service.

A © page from:
Guyana: Land of Six Peoples