Govt promises residential facility for street children

Govt promises residential facility for street children
Friday, July 13th 2007
 
Government says it will provide a residential facility for street children as part of its efforts to clamp down on the social ill and keep them off the streets.

Cabinet Secretary Dr. Roger Luncheon at a press briefing yesterday made the disclosure and said that the current centre would be rehabilitated and dedicated to housing street children.

However he cautioned that the facility would not be a "forever institution", adding that the focus would be on having the children placed in permanent, appropriate shelters through adoption or putting them in the custody of relatives.

Luncheon told the media too that Cabinet has also provided an additional facility to house those children on remand who were brought before the court for minor criminal offences and whose matters are still to be finalized. "This facility will allow the practice of co-locating those children with adults in detention centres to be abandoned in Guyana," he said.

Meanwhile, Luncheon stated that the facility was being introduced in the context that there is a demand for placement if the move to keep children off the street is to be sustained but cautioned that it would not serve the purpose of an orphanage.

He said that according to his information the current facility now holds about 20 children.

He was asked whether laws regarding children would be used to prosecute parents of street children. In response, Luncheon noted that indeed some parents may be guilty of not fulfilling their lawful obligations but these matters would be approached on a case-by-case basis.

According to him, there has been prosecution in some cases and parents have been making use of the facilities in this regard at the Human Services Ministry.

He reiterated that government was committed to dealing with the issue of street children since the focus on family has been a key aspect of the ruling party’s manifesto.

Welfare officers from the ministry and the Guyana Police Force currently work together to rid the streets of wandering children found each day and the ministry also holds administrative responsibility for temporary shelters for street children.

The boys from nowhere

A city magistrate was at his wit’s end recently to decide what do with a 10-year-old boy who had been charged for robbery with an offensive weapon. Posing as beggars, the boy and his 13- and 15-year-old partners approached an unsuspecting victim, threatening her with an ice pick, and robbing her of her valuables.

Unrepresented in court, clad in filthy garments and of no fixed place of abode – police talk for homeless – the boy was a member of one of the several posses who now live on the street and who seem to have come from nowhere and to be going nowhere. Uneducated, unwashed and uncared for, street children live in a catch-as-catch-can world around fast-food restaurants and supermarkets in the central business district by day, outside night clubs and bars in the entertainment circuit at night and sleeping on makeshift cardboard cots on the city’s pavements and parapets.

The children survive by begging, gambling, stealing and working at odd jobs. They are usually victims of sexual molestation by men; bullying; fighting; stealing, and drug use and abuse. Beyond the care of adults, many juveniles are increasingly being seduced into criminal activity by their peers and older boys.

The rise of the street children problem is neither a recent nor isolated occurrence. Urchins emerged as if from nowhere during the economic depression of the 1980s and they have never gone away. Older ones disappear and younger ones appear; they just keep on coming. Most boys must have started out from homes but they have now made the streets – including alleyways, derelict buildings, sidewalks and open spaces – their habitual abode and source of livelihood.

There has never been a census although one official implausibly put the figure of street children at a risible ‘thirty.’ When the numbers of homeless juveniles in all the urban areas – Anna Regina, Georgetown, Linden, New Amsterdam, Parika and Skeldon – are added, however, there might be more than 300. The bands of beggars at the international airport, river stellings and sawmills swell their numbers further.

Former PNC Minister Rabbian Ali-Khan and PPP Ministers Bibi Shadick and Priya Manickchand have all tried to deal with the problem but success has been elusive. Short-term campaigns and operations favoured by officialdom have not had lasting results.

In the 1990s, the administration launched ‘Opera-tion Embrace’, but this eventually petered out. Only in March, the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security launched its ‘Mission Child Protec-tion’ campaign which followed its ‘Mission Miracle’ programme to remove children from the streets. Though initially successful in reuniting some children with their families, these campaigns are insufficient as some children are disinclined to return to homes from which they fled in the first place or simply do not have homes to which they can return.

The Government is still infatuated with the Victorian style ‘big house’ strategy of trying to heap as many boys together in one place, in the style of the former Essequibo Boys’ School at Onderneeming. The Drop-in-Centre in Hadfield Street and the Night Shelter at East La Penitence and earlier failed efforts to establish concentration centres at Mahaica and Sophia are part of this same big house approach.

These might be a good first step in removing boys from the streets and providing them with warm meals, clean clothes and dry beds but are of doubtful benefit in the long term. Well-intended but patchwork efforts have not eradicated the social problem.

At present, responsibility for the correction of juvenile delinquents and protection of street children seems to be shared by four ministries – the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport which administers the New Opportunity Corps for wayward youths which was part of the defunct Guyana National Service; Ministry of Home Affairs which is planning to erect a new detention centre for juveniles; the Ministry of Education’s Schools’ Welfare Department which occasionally ’rounds up’ wrongdoers and ‘wandering’ girls; and the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security which is responsible for the National Probation Service.

Guyana’s growing army of street children needs continuous care services administered by a cadre of compassionate, committed and qualified professionals. There are few such persons in the public service. The four ministers, perhaps, could agree on a common strategy to make best use of their limited resources so as to give these vulnerable boys the best opportunity to enjoy better lives.

Ministry reunites 37 ‘street’ children with their families

The Ministry of Human Services and Social Security said its efforts to remove children from the streets are proving successful with 37 of 48 children being reunited with their families.

A Government Information Agency (GINA) press release said the ministry’s ‘Miracle Mission’ aims to have the children removed from the streets. It is working closely with the ministries of health and education to provide regular medical checks for the children at the Care Centre, while the education ministry is working on reintegrating those of school age into the school system. Human Services Minister Priya Manickchand said there are 14 children at the Centre undergoing short-term rehabilitation. Some of these children do not have homes, while others do not have the appropriate environment at home to encourage them to stay there.

Mission possible

This week, the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security has been able to present the kind of ‘feel good’ news that is so scarce today. Not only has the ministry quietly begun its ‘Mission Child Protection’ campaign, but also in just three days of starting it, officers had managed to rescue 37 children from the streets. Of course, rescuing them is just the beginning of the uphill task ahead, which ultimately, one hopes, would see them never returning to the streets. However, having read the plan as outlined by Minister Priya Manickchand and her officers in a report in this newspaper on Tuesday, one gets the good feeling that they have considered this and there is a plan B.

‘Mission Child Protection’, much like the operation that had seen the same ministry under Ms Manickchand’s predecessor undertake to get aged street people into the Night Shelter, involves officers trawling the areas where street children are known to be. The officers were able to pick up 37 children ranging in ages from four years old to 15 years old, with no resistance from any of them, and take them to a home, which had previously been set up specifically for this purpose. This speaks volumes. The first thing that is obvious is that these children wanted to be rescued, and this shatters the common perception about street children. It also bodes well for the success of the programme, notwithstanding the fact that once they are taken off the streets, parents and guardians must also take some responsibility for keeping their children off the streets. The second observation is the stark reality of just how vulnerable these children really are.

This brings to mind something else the minister raised at her press conference. She reported that two parents had gone on television and protested that their children were being removed from the streets because of Cricket World Cup (CWC). Could it get any worse? Can these parents say why their children were on the streets in the first place, since they obviously have such caring parents? Shame on them. Parents who knowingly expose their children to the evils of living and begging and roaming the streets daily should be arrested.

Ms Manickchand then went on to say that some of her officers had warned that ‘Mission Child Protection’ might be misconstrued as an effort to get the children off the streets before the expected CWC visitors began to arrive and had suggested putting it on hold. The minister quite rightfully overruled this. The important thing about protecting children is not about waiting for the right time to start. In fact, the right time is as soon as they are born and failing that as soon as possible after, because the older children are, the more difficult it is to reach them. The crucial thing about ‘Mission Child Protection’ is not when it started but that it continues.

And it must continue. Poverty, lack of pride, poor values and perhaps avarice, among other things, force children out onto the streets and keep them there. Since there is no indication that any of these are going away anytime soon, ‘Mission Child Protection’ must become ‘Mission Possible’ and for as long as it takes.

The street children phenomenon is a fairly new one. Older folks will remember the days when there was no such thing as street children. People were poor, yes, but their pride prevented them from sending their children out to beg, or taking them out with them with the aim of evoking pity in a potential donor. Or perhaps, it was because in those days the wealthy were more unobtrusive; there was no blatant flaunting of money as is seen today among the nouveau riche. Whichever it is, this new initiative is one that Guyana has desperately needed for some time now. The ministry has wisely increased its staff as it will need to continue to monitor the children who have been returned to their parents and it has said that the parents will receive counselling and financial assistance where necessary. ‘Mission Child Protection’ is by no means an easy road, there are countless bends and twists that will no doubt begin to reveal themselves as the journey continues and those manning the programme must be well prepared for this. However, it will also bring rewards, the highest of which will be that it changes children’s lives.

Street children in training programmes

Street children in training programmes

Georgetown, GINA, December 5, 2006

Children at the Drop in Centre for street children on Hadfield Street, Georgetown are currently involved in several training programmes aimed at building self-esteem and equipping them with life skills. 
            According to Administrator of the Centre Jacqueline Wilson, the children are being prepared to face the challenges of society. At present there are 19 children at the centre, 13 of whom are attending school while the others will start next month.
            Wilson disclosed that for the month of November, seven children, ages 15 and 16 were reunited with their families. This she said is one of the aims of the centre. Dozens of street children have been reunited with their families since the establishment of the centre.
            She explained that ten of the children now at the centre are participating in an ongoing computer training programme being offered by Red Thread Organisation.
            “I should also tell you that the much older boys at the centre have been participating in skills training,” she said.
            She also noted that 15 youths recently concluded a conflict transformation and attitudinal change programme conducted by the American Peace Pilgrim University.
            The programme has been of great benefit to the children since most of them are from families persistently in conflict. 
            Wilson said too that formerly only boys were at the centre, “but recently we have noticed that girls are coming to the centre. We started off with one and now we have three.”
            The children are provided with food, clothing and shelter on a daily basis. They are also given regular medical checks, including visits by a dentist.  
            She explained that during school vacation the children participate in skills training sessions such as masonry, welding, carpentry and joinery.
Established on June 1, 1999, the Drop in Centre for Street Children aims primarily at generating responsibility in children for living in a harmonious family unit. 
Upon entering the programmes, each child is exposed to counselling and a personal goal plan created for him. He/she is also tutored in basic literacy and given the opportunity to learn life skills that would enable him to be gainfully employed or enter the regular school system.