A most shocking omission
November 6, 2006
Two weeks ago, Ms Yvonne Arthur had cause to swoop down on a house in Howes Street where a mother and father had abandoned their five children. The youngest was no more than four years old and the eldest was 12.
It was left to the 12-year-old to provide for the other members in the household. When Ms Arthur visited the home she found a situation that was beyond description. Faeces rested in a bucket in the middle of the house and appeared to have been there for some time. Pieces of sponge served as bedding and there were the remains of stale food in a pot.
The most peculiar thing is all this happened literally outside the doorway of an aunt (the father's sister). In this society, it was once unthinkable that close relatives would actually turn their backs on the children of their own blood. Those were the days of the extended family and that relationship served this country well.
In the first instance, the extended family guarded against the need for day care, served to ensure that children were always under the watchful eye of an adult and were disciplined, and once there was food among members of the family, everyone ate. We believe that this is still the case in rural Guyana but certainly, the plight of the five children in the city living so close to a blood relative boggled the mind. What was even more amazing was that the system has no way of dealing with such cases.
When Ms Arthur removed the children from the hovel in which she found them she first contacted the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security. No official was there at the time so Ms Arthur attempted to have the children placed in a home. That was a no-go because a male there simply refused to accept the children.
Faced with that dead end Ms Arthur had no option but to return the children back to the hovel from which she had removed them. However, as if to give testimony to the saying that a new broom sweeps clean, Minister Priya Manickchand got involved and the children were placed in what started out as a shelter for street children, particularly boys—the Drop in Centre. This centre, at the start, was what the name suggested: drop in for a meal and at times, a place to sleep.
The children are still there and the eldest girl is being asked to live in a facility that at no time catered for the female presence. Since those early days, one girl ended up in the Drop in Centre (she is now 16) and she was able to return to school as some of the male occupants now do.
The problem of street children and abandoned children is nothing new to this society, particularly the Georgetown society. At one time in the not too distant past, the Human Services Ministry sent the street children to a facility at Mahaica that was previously home to people with Hansen's disease.
The children did not stay and since it was not a prison, no one could stop them from walking in and out. Many of them walked back to the city, stopping at any house along the way for food.
In most societies where such a situation exists there are facilities for these children until the society could have them placed in foster care homes. We are certain that there are families who would open their homes to foster care even if it is simply to supplement their income. But we never even contemplated legislation to make foster care a reality.
The absence of a place for abandoned children readily came to light when the society moved against a city businessman who had entered into a relationship with a 13-year-old. The child's mother petitioned the courts, failed to have her daughter returned to her and ended up having her daughter committed to a penal facility for young offenders simply because there was no place to keep her.
In the end, because of the public protest at the girl's incarceration, the state simply washed its hands of the matter and the girl ended up right where she started - in the hands of the man from whom her mother had attempted to wrest her.
To this day, there is no movement by the State to address the problem of a home for street children and abandoned children. Land is available; money to build such a home is also readily available but there is no move to have this done.
Until such time we will continue to poach on what the private people started and be satisfied because we make a subvention available to them.