GIRLS RESCUED –TIP unit removes under-age girls from Mahdia rum shop
SEDUCTIVELY dressed and sitting among grown men, chatting and laughing, three girls were first sighted in a shop at the Mahdia and Konwaruk Junction in Region 8.
Unaware that they were being observed, one of the girls, a purse slung across her shoulders, got up and took an order for beers; and while serving the men, she playfully placed a beer on one man’s chest, and he responded with laughter.Something was not right, and sitting in one of the vehicles that were parked in front of the shop was a member of the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Unit; but, more importantly, Minister within the Ministry of Social Protection, Simona Broomes, a prominent TIP activist, was also around.
Allowing the worker from the TIP Unit and other technical personnel from the Labour Department of the Ministry to take the lead, Minister Broomes remained in her vehicle.
Questioned by the TIP worker, the girls said they were sisters and were taken into the interior by their mother. The woman who was identified as their mother appeared and said her daughters were in the interior for six weeks, since she had no one to take care of them; but she stressed that they were leaving the area in a few days’ time.
It was business as usual, until the team started asking questions as the Minister observed from within her vehicle. Initially, the children’s mother appeared calm when the officers asked to inspect her business. Without hesitation, the woman opened up the premises for the inspection to be conducted.
But when the spotlight was placed on the underage girls, the woman became very agitated. “Yes! Yes! They are my daughters!” she told the TIP officer, although she was unable to provide any evidence. “They didn’t walk with their ID cards, and I don’t have their birth certificates (here), I have them at home,” the woman quickly said.
Grilled as to why the young girls were made to sell alcohol, the woman shifted into defence mode. “No! No! They don’t sell alcohol! I brought them here to help me cook. They don’t sell alcohol! They’re here on vacation, but they’re going back on Wednesday.”
However, not long after that, she admitted that, indeed, the girls — two of whom were wearing long tights and vests and the third a short, close-fitting dress — were indeed selling alcohol.
At that point, Minister Broomes left her vehicle and informed the woman that it was illegal to have minors engaged in the sale of alcohol. Additionally, she was informed that the TIP Unit was also investigating a case of human trafficking, and so the children would be taken to the Mahdia Police Station, in keeping with the protocols, since she could provide no form of identification.
The woman was invited to accompany her daughters, but she turned down the offer as she began to rant and rave, verbally abusing the TIP officer and her supporting colleagues from the Labour Department.
“Come here! Y’all come here!” the woman shouted to the teenagers, who instead calmly entered the vehicle shown to them by the TIP officer. By this time, some of her male customers joined in verbally abusing the ministerial team, using racial slurs in the process, forcing the team to exit the location in haste.
Upon informing the Mahdia Police Station of the alleged case of trafficking, Minister Broomes asked that the statements from the girls be taken at the hotel where she was slated to stay. She explained that the girls were not criminals and should not be treated like criminals, nor should they be intimidated in the process.
At the hotel, the three girls gave varying stories, but they all said that they were not being trafficked by their mother, and were never forced to engage in sexual activity for money. They did, however, say they were promised $20,000 a month by their mother.
They explained that, as children, they had grown up with their grandmother on the East Coast; but, two years ago, their mother took them away. Now they reportedly live on the East Bank of Demerara.
However, one of the twins subsequently told Minister Broomes that she did not like the interior area, but was promised by her mother that they would have been taken back to the coast on Wednesday. They had been at the junction, cooking and selling at the shop for approximately six weeks.
Another of the sisters said she had no clue that she would have been visiting the area, until her mother appeared one day and told them they would be travelling to Mahdia.
Based on investigations conducted so far, the girls were taken out of school weeks before they were slated to write the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate examinations (CSEC), and taken to the interior location with the promise of being paid $20,000 each. Even a six-year-old toddler was taken out of the school and housed at the shop with his grandmother.
With the police investigating the matter, the girls were informed that they needed to do a medical at the Mahdia Regional Hospital. By then night had crept in, and the Minister, in considering the safety of the girls, informed one of the cops that if the police did not have an appropriate place for the girls to stay, her Ministry would provide a room at the hotel for them to stay in the custody of a female officer; but this suggestion was never conveyed to the higher ranks.
Instead, the junior rank who was given the message appeared hostile to the Minister, even to the extent that he suggested that the ministerial team was out of line in their investigation.
Meanwhile, at the hospital, the girls’ mother, who had travelled to Mahdia, continued her verbal abuse, using profanities in the process; but was not restrained by the police. She mustered up support, and along with a small group, created a scene, forcing the doctor in charge at the time to close the doors of the hospital.
The woman lay on the ground, screaming and shouting at the members of the ministerial team while her supporters beat drums.
Totally disregarding the suggestion made by Minister Broomes, the junior police officer handed the girls over to their mother, and it was business as usual again.
It was not until Friday morning that Minister Broomes learnt that the girls were not in the custody of a female police rank at a safe home, but was in the custody of their alleged mother, who had no evidence to prove that she was indeed their mother. The ministerial was gravely disappointed at the manner in which the police handled the case, and the ranks were told that the TIP Unit, the Welfare Unit, and the Child Care and Protection Agency would be awaiting the arrival of the underage girls on Monday for further investigation.
It was pointed out that even though a case of TIP may not be proven, the environment in which the girls were found ought not to be condoned.
In an interview with Guyana Chronicle last Friday, Minister Broomes said children are sometimes trafficked by their parents. She said it is nothing new, but it often poses a serious challenge to the TIP Unit, because the police would usually become sympathetic with the parents, to the detriment of the victims.
Minister Broomes explained that it was her hope to have the girls transported to the Child Care and Protection Agency in Georgetown on Thursday, but the process took longer than expected.
“The girls’ stories are conflicting: ‘Mommy says she will pay us $20,000. Mommy says she will carry us. I didn’t know mommy carrying us. When I heard, I didn’t want to go. Mommy says I got to go’,” the Minister said as she summarised the children’s stories.
She made it clear that it is never government’s intention to remove children from their parents, but children ought to be protected, even if it is from their own parents.
“We don’t want to take children away from their parents. Children belong with their parents, but even if it is against their parents, we got to protect them. Once they are in danger, we have a responsibility to protect them,” the Minister said.
The People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Administration denied that Trafficking in Persons existed in Guyana; but “we, the APNU+AFC Government, will confront human trafficking,” Minister Broomes said firmly.
By Svetlana Marshall