A boy aged 15 has given a mind-boggling version of his experiences while living at places of safety from where he absconded more than 50 times in the last six years.
His decision to be consistently on the move is due to the many times that he said he was raped by other boys at the institutions, beaten by them, and being verbally abused also by boys and workers.
The boy, whose name we will not reveal, as he is a minor, spoke with the Jamaica Observer last week while he went on one of his regular treks in the downtown Kingston area, in search of food and other items. He has been out of the last place of safety that housed him for over a month.
“Me start run weh from me a eight because them rape me off. Is nine homes me run from. Me no wait too long fi run way,” he told the Sunday Observer.
Born in Tivoli Gardens, West Kingston, the young man is one of 16 children for his parents, including nine by his mother. He became a ward of the State from age two, as his mother, with whom he lived at the time, was unable to care for him. His father lived elsewhere. “Mi run weh from the nine homes over 50 times since 2008.
“Sometimes when mi report abuse, the police seh a dat mi fi get. Police no care ’bout me,” he said. He told the Sunday Observer that he has lived at places of safety in the parishes of Kingston & St Andrew, Manchester, St Catherine, Portland, and Clarendon.
The Child Development Agency (CDA), in a response, issued a statement to the Sunday Observer saying that it feared for the child and his safety. “The agency has been deeply concerned for the welfare of the ward in question who has repeatedly absconded from a number of child care facilities as well as while in the care of his family,” the CDA said.
“His frequent absconding continues to expose him to abuse and the risk of serious injury. Each time the ward is picked up by the police after running away from the child care facility and his family, he has reported to the social workers and caregivers that he has been abused by adult males while on the streets,” the CDA went on.
However, the lad said that running away is something that he is proud of, as according to him, the conditions in places of safety are unbearable. “Sometimes dem catch mi and carry mi in on a Monday and mi run weh the Tuesday,” he said. “Dem rape mi off in seven of the nine homes and because of that, I have been getting sick.
I did a HIV test last week in Half- Way-Tree and it was negative, but the doctor said that I should come back in three months’ time to do another test. Mi a worry,” he said.
Among the homes and detention centres that he has stayed are the SOS Children’s Village, Alpha Boys’ Home, St John’s Bosco in Manchester, and the last one he was sent to — St Augustine in Chapelton, Clarendon. “They beat me at the homes, take away my money and rape me.
Mi go to the homes for care and protection, but mi not getting that,” he said.
“At St Augustine, the boys beat mi up, thump mi in mi face and take away mi things. The bigger boys, like those 16 and 17, rape mi and tek weh me food every day. When mi complain to the staff dem seh mi have to defend miself. Dem run mi way, lick mi and box mi,” the youth bemoaned, interjecting that he has also been forced to perform oral sex on older boys.
The CDA disclosed having knowledge of some complaints made by the boy, but said that efforts were ongoing to deal with them.
“As it relates to his charges of sexual abuse within child care facilities, the environment of a child care facility comes with some inherent challenges. Some children come into State care having already been exposed to abuse, and hence they in turn may abuse others wards.
As a result, the agency, through our monitoring and other mechanisms, continues to impress upon facilities the need for close supervision of wards,” the CDA said. “Sexual and other forms of assault on wards by other wards are treated with the utmost seriousness, as would be any abuse against them by an adult.
Facilities are mandated to routinely initiate a critical incident mechanism, by making reports on such matters to the CDA, the Centre for the Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse (CISOCA), the Office of the Children’s Registry, as well as other bodies. There were a number of critical incidents reported, involving the ward in question:
• “Two of the cases were of a sexual nature. On August 12, 2012, the ward in question was sexually molested by another ward. The matter is currently before the May Pen Children’s Court. The last court hearing was on January 8, 2014; however, the ward in question had absconded. The hearing is set for June, 2014.
• “The other report of a sexual nature occurred outside the facility.
• “On another occasion a wound was inflicted to his back and arm by another ward. That ward was charged and his now on a Correctional Order for the offence.
• “The ward in question has also been involved as the perpetrator in incidents against other wards.
“The ward concerned has been the subject of extensive psychological and psychiatric treatment and counselling. He has been assessed and diagnosed with four different disorders and is currently seeing a private psychiatrist.
“It is also required that the ward be in an environment where he can receive ongoing counselling and other treatments to address the challenges which continue to place him and others at risk.
However, his frequent absconding has interrupted his treatment,” the CDA said. The young man told this newspaper that on one occasion when he was caught by police, he was spat on by the law enforcers and punched in the face while being handcuffed.
He said that the police car in which he was placed and was being transported almost crashed when he attempted to jump from it. “It no nice. It wicked.
At the homes dem beat the handicapped boys, cut dem with razor blade, stab dem, box dem, thump dem, fling shoes inna dem head, kick dem and then rape dem, too,” he said. The boy said he also witnessed “a bigger boy” push a needle into the neck of a physically challenged boy, causing the area to bleed profusely.
He told the Sunday Observer that the last time he left St Augustine Place of Safety, he, along with two other boys, walked the near 57 km from Chapelton to the Clarendon capital of May Pen.
From there he was assisted with bus fare early in the morning to get into Kingston. “If you did see mi foot that night — the whole a it blister up and swell up. But mi did haffi leave because the homes dem a mash up mi life,” he said. “Up to 15 bwoy dem hold mi one time and some a dem rape mi.
Mi first get rape when mi a seven and is a regular thing since that. That a go on eight, almost nine year now — dem whole heap a years deh mi shoulda inna school a live good life,” said the youngster, who disclosed that he wanted to attend Calabar High School on his way to fulfilling his lifelong dream of becoming a doctor, to help people and make money.
The young man, who turns 16 on February 24, read a few lines from a book in the presence of this interviewer, barely pausing to pronounce words that would cause some students to stumble, and showing that despite the fact that he had missed so many school hours, he was still capable of learning.
He confessed that recently he had the urge to commit suicide, but changed his mind, as he did not believe that it was worth it. “Mi did a plan fi kill miself, like hang or drown miself, because it no nice inna the homes.
But mi seh mi nah mek people stress mi out. Mi a go live on and try fi enjoy life.” He showed the scars of what he said were the results of attacks by boys at various homes, which arose from his refusal to be buggered by them.
“They will hold yuh throat and squeeze it, locking off yuh air supply. Dem pluck you nose till it red and start bleed, put toothpaste in you eye, and one time a boy even lick mi in mi head with a jelly (coconut).
“Me and the workers a no friend, because dem nah protect you. A night time a pure war, dem thump you till you sick, and the last time mi get lick inna mi eye wid a stone,” he said.
The CDA, however, challenged that claim. “As it relates to allegations of verbal and physical abuse by staff, there is no report to confirm this,” the agency said.
The youth admitted that he had jumped through a window at the CISOCA office on one of the 11 occasions that he went there.
He also confessed to have run away from the office of the Children’s Advocate, where, like at CISOCA, he had been taken by adults who met him on the streets and who promised him that he would be taken to stay with responsible people.
“Whole heap a time after me run weh the CDA people dem catch mi, but mi just run weh again when mi get the chance,” he said. Last Christmas, he said that he went to Tivoli Gardens to look for his mother, who still lives there, and the police were called to get him. He, however, ran away upon seeing them.
The youngster insisted that he does not want to go back into another place of safety to be exposed to any more horrific experiences.
For his 16th birthday, apart from seeing his brothers and sisters again, some of whom he has not laid eyes on in eight years, he wishes to find a comfortable place to live from where he may be able to make into reality his dream of entering Calabar and going on to further studies.
He would also like to be reunited with his father, whom he said he had not seen for a “long time”. “Mi feel seh mi father no love mi again, because the last time mi see him him say mi go a the home dem and him think say mi gay.
Nobody seems to want me,” the boy said. “Mi used to sleep on the sidewalk a town (downtown Kingston), but mi caan sleep down there again because every minute police curfew the area.
“Mi even used to sleep on the sidewalk a New Kingston. The gay dem up there no trouble mi because dem know mi. “Right now, mi really woulda like fi go back a school; a long time mi nuh go a school, because a di corruption at the homes. Homes a mash up me life,” he complained.
But the CDA insisted in its statement that the young man would be better off if he went back to St Augustine.
“The young ward has shared his preference for the “freedom” of the streets as opposed to a facility which has rules and certain expected standards of behaviours,” the CDA said.
“Please note that child care facilities are minimum security facilities, and wards are allowed to go to school and participate in community life. “Missing person reports have been filed with the police on each occasion the ward has absconded.
The agency is asking anyone knowing his whereabouts to report it to the police or contact the CDA. “St Augustine currently houses three special needs boys.
All were taken to the Chapelton Community Hospital in recent months and were medically examined. There was no evidence to indicate that any of them was abused physically or otherwise.
“By all accounts, the ward in question has been doing better at St Augustine where he has been nurtured, and enrolled in a number of structured academic and social programmes. “The management team at St Augustine has developed an open door and sensitive approach to this ward.
He has been encouraged to speak to the management team and staff. It was evident that this approach was working, as the ward, while settled and was attending school off the premises, would seek the assistance of the manager and other caregivers with his school work.
“The facility’s management continues to be concerned for the ward’s welfare,” the CDA said.