Another look at the anti-truancy campaign
Guyana Chronicle
February 6, 2003

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WHEN, in October 2001, the Ministry of Education assembled a task force to crack down on truancy in the Capital’s schools, many citizens expressed praise for the campaign and were of the view that at long last something was being done to curb the instances of truancy and “skulking”. Within days, the relief citizens felt metamorphosed into dismay and even outrage as the prosecutors of the anti-truancy campaign opened a Pandora’s Box of wilful neglect of infants and young children, cases of physical and sexual abuse perpetrated on children by their mothers’ boyfriends and even by male relatives; and instances of drug abuse among high school students.

Investigating teams, comprising personnel from the Ministries of Education and Human Services and the City Hall’s Constabulary, descended on Municipal Markets and their environs and found children in school uniforms loitering and generally “hanging out” around stalls during the hours when they should have been in their various classrooms. Some children appeared to be “holding on” in stalls, while the legitimate stallholders went off on various errands. Other schoolchildren were seen frequenting video parlours, where they were allowed to play Nintendo and other electronic games. Some children, who were seen wandering the streets aimlessly during school hours or were riding minibuses, told investigators that they were on their way to visit various “uncles”. The investigators were often given fictitious names by some children, who seemed to have considerable skills at misleading the authorities about their identities.

The stories, written in the main by journalist Shirley Thomas and published exclusively by the Guyana Chronicle and the Sunday Chronicle late in October 2001 and early in November 2001, helped citizens to understand how deeply entrenched were the socioeconomic problems plaguing the society. Driven by many negative manifestations of poverty, some families were so dysfunctional that dozens of school-age children were forced to face the terrors of life on the streets just to survive. Some sold limes, plastic bags, pins, combs and little baubles in order to feed themselves and sometimes to take “something” home for unemployed parents and other siblings.

Back in 2001, most persons commended the anti-truancy investigators for their groundbreaking efforts in exposing these ugly situations that helped to rob children of the joys of childhood. Unfortunately, however, the excellent efforts of the earlier campaign could have been tarnished by the situation that developed in the vicinity of Croal and King Streets on Tuesday, when a seemingly overzealous and ill-informed team of anti-truancy officers attempted to apprehend schoolchildren out of minibuses. A report carried in yesterday’s Chronicle stated that the incident almost erupted into violence. Minibus operators and children resisted the action of the investigators, who did not identify themselves nor did they give any indication of what they were about.

“Persons at the scene felt that the timing of the operation was bad. Some argued that holding such an exercise around 15:00 hrs when students are out in the streets catching transportation to get home would be an exercise in futility since it would be difficult to determine that children were not genuinely heading home at that time,” the Chronicle report stated.

We have commended the anti-truancy campaign in this column before. We are convinced that it is a most meaningful exercise for it helps the authorities to rescue children at risk and to improve the well-being and care of others. It is our hope that greater awareness and planning would inform the actions and objectives of the investigators.

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