Home Alone Editorial
Stabroek News
April 6, 2002

Related Links: Articles on kids
Letters Menu Archival Menu

Home Alone is a favourite children's film, in which the hero, eight-year-old Kevin (Macaulay Culkin) is forgotten at home while his entire extended family goes on vacation. The house is targeted by bandits, but the ingenious Kevin manages to overcome all odds and keeps the house safe until his family returns, frantic at having forgotten him. The story has a happy ending.

Home alone is an every day reality for too many Guyanese children. Six and eight year olds; two and three year olds and even infants are left at home alone. They are not forgotten at home, they are just left there. In the majority of cases, it is because their mothers (usually a single parent) cannot afford a babysitter or daycare facilities. Their stories mostly end unhappily.

In recurring cases in the news children left at home alone have caused fires and/or have died as a result of fires. Two were spared just last week in Queenstown, when a stranger dashed into a burning house and saved them. But the possibility exists that they and others could be left at home alone again.

In Guyana, working mothers who contribute to the National Insurance Scheme are granted three months maternity leave. In some instances, particularly with prima gravida (first-time mothers) up to a month of this time is spent at home waiting for the baby to arrive. In extended families this is not a problem as there is always a 'live-in nanny' waiting to take charge. But migration, poverty and disease have contributed to the near-extinction of these families.

Low-income earners have found that it costs less to remain at home after birth than to place their infants in day care or hire a nanny. Minimum-wage moms, who already have to struggle to make ends meet, would find it near-impossible to fork out an extra $3,000 a month for private day care services, some of which do not take children below a certain age.

In Georgetown, the municipality operates six day care centres, which cost $1,800 a month with a one-time registration fee of $300, and are mostly oversubscribed. As a result, admissions are done in July unless a child is suddenly removed and a place becomes vacant. However, not all of the municipal centres have facilities for small babies, making places even more limited.

Poor women with several small children, who suddenly find themselves alone because their spouse has either died or just left them, have little choice; they must find work or watch their children starve. This is sometimes the reason that mothers have succumbed to the temptation to 'just run out for a minute', leaving a slightly older sibling in charge, or asking a busy neighbour to 'keep an eye', which has, in some cases, cost them everything.

A way must be found to assist mothers who find themselves in these trying circumstances, apart from providing them with handouts. Government agencies and more private sector companies must find a way of making daytime childcare a part of employment costs. And perhaps women's groups and non-governmental organisations could seek funding for income-generating projects which would see stay-at-home mothers trained in this area and facilities set up at community centres, where a small fee could be charged to cover employment costs.

It would be a new area of skills training for women, which would benefit not only them and their children, but also the community at large.