There is no government database to determine how many street children there are presently in T&T. However, they are not as visible during the daytime as they used to be around Port-of-Spain in recent times. So said Jocelyn James-Ransome, co-ordinator of Credo-Sophia House, a rehabilitation centre for socially displaced children, situated at Park Street, Port-of-Spain.
When asked if they went underground and into hiding, James-Ransome responded that the children had developed a “street sense” honed from learning to survive on the streets, and a networking system which was much more effective than any IT professional’s. The T&T Guardian asked her to comment on the issue in light of the current government campaign to address the problem of street dwellers.
James-Ransome said street children would continue to be an issue, as with any emerging country experiencing a breakdown in values, evolving standards and social problems such as T&T’s, children will fall through the cracks and she was uncertain whether the situation would change or get any better.
In a recent telephone interview she said: “It is extremely dangerous for them out there. Street children are exposed to abuse. We’ve had instances of boys who were involved in prostitution, with older boys pimping out the younger boys. “There’s the ever-present danger of physical and sexual abuse, the risk of contracting STDs and Aids, of drugs. We have a case of one of our wards who is a full-fledged addict and was being indoctrinated into a life of crime.”
James-Ransome said it was very easy now for street children to be absorbed into gangs, which gave them a place and sense of belonging. She said it was an almost seamless transition into crime for some who were recruited by older criminals and inducted into petty crimes such as burglary, taking advantage of their small size to fit into tight spaces and becoming “Artful Dodgers” or pickpockets.
James-Ransome also revealed that there were more boys, averaging 12-14 years, and a “very small” percentage of girls living on the streets. She said what accounted for this disparity was that while girls were just as socially displaced as boys, there was always a male figure willing to offer shelter to the girls in return for favours.
James-Ransome explained that many of the children came from broken homes, and some were psychologically scarred and wanted to be on the streets to escape the abuse at home, describing the scenario like a perfect “Peter Pan existence,” offering freedom without responsibility and the cares of growing up.
James-Ransome said some of them found it very difficult to assimilate into a structured society with authority figures. She revealed that some of the children had homes, but they were devoid of structure, supervision and an authority figure, which led them to gravitate to living on the streets.
James-Ransome said they were fiercely protective of each other and would take turns begging at an establishment and share the money among themselves after.