August 14, 2004
It was nearly four weeks ago that a senior Stabroek News employee was driving through Alberttown when she happened upon a four-year-old girl in the throes of a tantrum. The child was lying flat on her back in the middle of the road and screaming at the top of her lungs. The young woman, herself a mother of two, stopped to enquire what the matter was and was shocked at how the child quickly clambered into her car, her anger over at the thought of a car ride home. She also noted how eagerly the child devoured a sandwich which she had prepared for her son and placed in the back seat of the car. But nothing prepared her for the sight that greeted her when she took the little girl, who said her name was Demi Moore, home.
Home for Demi and her family, which includes her father Desmond and brothers Leroy, 10, Brandon, 9, Anthony, 7, and Albert, 6 is a small cottage that should have been condemned years ago. It has no windows, insecure doors, huge gaping holes in the roof, no running water either in the house or the yard and a yard toilet filled to the top with filth. There she also discovered that there is no care-giver on site. The children's mother lives elsewhere and visited sometimes, during the day. Their father works 12 and more hours a day. Neighbours said Demi and her four brothers walked the streets begging during the day.
The signs of neglect were evident. Demi's long curly hair was matted, her milk teeth were mostly rotted and she had not had a bath in a few days. There is not a single stick of furniture in the house for the children to sit on and just two grubby mattresses on a pallet. The children's clothing consisted of a pile of dirty rags on the floor that would not even fill a single washtub. There were no books, no toys, nothing to keep them indoors, hence their penchant for wandering the streets.
This information noted, the children's mother was contacted and a call was placed to the Probation and Welfare Department of the Ministry of Labour, Human Services and Social Security. Surprise, surprise, the ministry knew all about the children. In fact, they had been removed from their depressing surroundings and "temporarily" placed in a home. A situation which, it later transpired, neither parent was opposed to as both recognised that their children were not adequately being cared for.
Chief Probation and Family Welfare Officer Ann Greene confirmed that the matter was "engaging the attention of the department" and then proceeded to berate the reporter, "for always carrying the photographs of vulnerable children," on this newspaper's front pages. She said this amounted to exploitation and would have a negative mental impact on the children. She then proceeded to berate the parents and the community for leaving the children unprotected.
However, Greene also gave an undertaking that something would be done to assist the Moore children and this newspaper sat on the story for three weeks in the hope that when it did publish it, there would have been something positive to report. Neighbours recalled that the children's plight had already been highlighted in the electronic media some time ago and they had been given some assistance then. But clearly, what they needed was care and attention, as tired of the responsibility of fending for himself, seven-year-old Anthony said: "We wan fuh go in a home..."
However, three weeks later, the children's situation remained unchanged despite the parents having visited the ministry and again offering no objection to their children being placed in a facility where they would be adequately cared for. When this newspaper contacted the ministry to enquire about the progress made towards this end, there was the usual predictable response: the paperwork was not ready. This was in fact not the case. Stabroek News subsequently learnt that the documents which Greene said were needed - birth certificates and clinic cards - had been secured a long time ago. But even if they were not, was she saying that these children had to remain in that situation because of a lack of a few pieces of paper?
A report highlighting the Moores' plight appeared in Tuesday's issue. On Tuesday evening, Minister Bibi Shadick, through the Government Information Agency (GINA), issued a statement accusing this newspaper of 'reckless endangerment' and calling for an apology. She said, among other things, that her ministry had been "working" with the family for more than a year and that she was disappointed with the general behaviour of Stabroek News. It is disgraceful, Minister Shadick that your welfare officers could have visited these children's home and seen the circumstances under which they existed and left them there. Or have they not yet visited?
Minister Shadick said that the children attended school and were only out because school had closed. If this is indeed the case, Minister, how come your Chief Probation Officer said this week that they needed birth certificates and clinic cards - prerequisites for school enrolment - to be placed in a home? If this is the case, where is the evidence of them having attended school; the school bags, lunch boxes and school books? And why would their parents say that they could not go to school because there was no one to prepare them to go in the mornings?
Last November, the case of one-year-old Lilly Wong surfaced. She had been left in a taxi by her homeless mother and then when she was taken to the ministry, welfare workers there handed her back to the impoverished strangers who rescued her claiming they could find no place for her that day. By the time the story appeared in the newspaper the next day, Lilly Wong and her mother had vanished. This column had issued then, a figurative curse on the ministry. It may have seemed harsh at the time, but current events prove that it was entirely fitting, because according to Minister Shadick's revelations, her staff would have been working with the Moore children since then.
There is something very rotten in the Human Services Ministry and perhaps Minister Shadick would better serve the children and people of Guyana by finding out what it is and doing something about it. Instead of sitting down to pen a response to Stabroek News's article, she and her officers ought to have taken themselves down to First Street, Alberttown and done their jobs. If anyone is guilty of reckless endangerment it is Minister Shadick and her welfare officers. And if this is the way they intend to continue, then is there any point in keeping the ministry open?