The lure of gold and pervasive drug and alcohol use are being blamed for the high levels of suicide, sexual harassment, and physical violence in Baramita.
This is the disturbing finding of the Rights of Children (ROC) arm of the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA), which recently conducted an on-site interaction with residents of the community, located in Region One.
According to ROC Coordinator Larry Carryl, the reports of police taking bribes from miners, exploiting women sexually and failing to intervene are widespread.
Additionally, there are high numbers of unreported cases of young women being lured by wealthy miners in the community.
Compounding the issue is the fact that 50 percent of students in Barimita have parents who are into small-scale mining.
This means that there is little to no adult supervision in the homes, leading to a high number of school dropouts.
The group conducted several interviews with residents, and though mining was not the only factor responsible for the social ills, it was ranked as the most critical.
“The lure of the mining industry led to widespread school dropouts in some communities, with predominantly male students indicating that mining was the most lucrative avenue available to them, and the pursuit of an education was disregarded when compared to the vast amounts of money they could obtain in the backdams.”
Several other unsettling realities were revealed during the visit. Carryl said that there is a high percentage of suicides by people under the influence of alcohol.
“Alcohol use is pervasive throughout the community, as some residents related that even children 10 and 11-years old are drunk.”
Carryl said that in one instance, a 10 year-old drank himself to death. In addition to alcohol abuse, the absence of recreational activities contributes to the “hopelessness’ of residents which is then exacerbated by alcohol consumption.
Baramita has been ranked as one of the worst affected communities. ROC, during its visit, was told by one Government worker that it was the worst community he has ever worked in. “He (the government worker) expressed the view that the sexual abuse of young teen-age girls both by adult miners, policemen and others is rampant, with parents permitting sexual abuse of daughters in exchange for liquor.”
Moreover, approximately 70 percent of the community, men, women and children bear marks of violence on them as a result of the fighting which accompanies drunkenness.
“Girls have been known to walk with the top of broken bottles in their bras which they pull out to defend themselves.”
Carryl believes that the first step to remedying the situation in Baramita would be to develop a social framework. This will include appropriate infrastructure as well as systems which would contribute to the development of the community. “Additionally, indigenous persons need to be encouraged to reintegrate agriculture into their lifestyle so that the dependence on ‘foodstuff’ taken into the region for miners can be reduced.”
These issues have been affecting the community for quite some time. In October 2015 a visit was made to Baramita by a high level government team led by Minister of Indigenous People’s Affairs Sydney Allicock. During that visit residents said that the issues of suicide and drug abuse among children were prevalent.
Sexual abuse among young girls was mentioned whereby an eight year-old was dragged into the bushes, raped and left there. According to the residents no proper investigation was done. The unlicensed rum shops were described as being traps to lure young people, especially females.
“Escalating levels of sexual violence, high levels of suicide, spiraling use of alcohol and drugs and an almost complete isolation of native Amerindians all contribute to the crisis ROC encountered,” Carryl said.
ROC visited other communities which, despite not being as badly affected, have the potential to become so if mining is not properly addressed in these regions.
“No doubt, mining has brought temporary economic benefits to the area, but the social impact of mining mentioned are of great concern to elders and young people in the community.”
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