Children’s advocate Shelly Ross is calling for heads to roll at the Government Industrial School (GIS) where a 14-year-old girl was said to have been photographed naked in a cell.
Ross, who said she was not surprised by the report, is appealing to those in charge to do what is necessary to change how the institution is being run. She is adamant that the time has come for authorities to speak to the young people and parents who have been affected by the operations of the school.
“The girls are telling us what is happening because they are the ones affected. But, there are many girls that don’t want to speak out. I have a girl right now who I am speaking to and she just cannot speak about anything that happened because she is so traumatized, she wants to forget it ever happened. And you have many girls like that.
“I know girls who have come out and went into prostitution. I spoke to another girl who recently came out and she said to me that she felt like a slave and she referred to the ‘wicked, spiteful’ people encountered and these are words that come from these children,” Ross said.
Ross recalled that when the Government changed in 2018, Johnny Tudor took over the chairmanship of the board and soon after made sweeping comments about the operations at the GIS and called for the removal of the principal.
“After that outburst by the new chairman, he went totally quiet. Not another word came out from GIS board about that situation. And if a person was so passionate about what he saw and could make those statements in his capacity as the chairman and then went into keeping quiet, then we could all guess what happened.
“People working in that institution need to answer the questions. They need to be accountable. Heads should roll up there,” she said.
Following the report in another section of the press of a picture being taken of the teenager, Minister of Home Affairs Wilfred Abrahams promised a full investigation. He voiced his concern that some member of staff or someone had access to, and breached the privacy of the child to take a photograph or a video of the young female in a vulnerable situation. The minister said such action was against the rules of the institution and not in keeping with the child’s rights to privacy.
“No person should have been in a position to take a picture of that child and expose that child to unwanted publicity or even ridicule, far less the institution,” Abrahams said.
However, Ross said she was unmoved and unimpressed with Minister Abrahams’ statement.
Nevertheless, she said while the current investigations are being conducted, authorities should also pay attention to putting measures in place to pave the way for long-term educational opportunities for children who have passed through the institution.
The advocate said in many instances, children are leaving the GIS worse than they went in and are forced to make life on their own with limited guidance and assistance.
“I know of another little girl who came out and she wants to be a nurse and there is absolutely no help for her. A lot of these children are taken from their families at 14 and 15 years old when they should be in school getting an education. And a lot of the families have issues. So unless we correct these issues or help these parents to do better and to get better, after three years, these girls are now almost women. And you are going to put them back into that same hostile environment, or environments now that cannot deal with girls that have gotten worse.
“Sometimes you find that when girls go back home, there is a new stepmother or father and they don’t want that and some of these girls then go on their own at 17, 18 years old and what are they going to do. They can’t get a job and they have no money to say go back to school. What then are we doing with them? Where are we sending them? These are things that we also need to investigate,” Ross argued.
“We are destroying the lives of young people and one of my major concerns is we don’t help these girls in there with whatever issues they are facing. This child told me she has never gotten anger management treatment, she never got counselling.
“So we do not treat those issues but we cause more stress in the lives of these kids and we put them out there where they have no solid or good foundation to go back to. We are making criminals of our young people. Either they are going to get involved in the wrong company or they are going to become the wrong company,” she added.
Ross also voiced concerns about the fact that in 2021 children are still being institutionalized for wandering and questioned what has been the hold up with the proposed Child Justice Bill.
“If we look at what’s happening with children, that is more important to me than the marijuana bill or developing missions in all these countries all over the world. We have to start doing what is important first in this country”.