By Evie Andreou
TROUBLED teenagers from dysfunctional families are being let down by a lack of government policy which leads to increasing numbers of them turning to drugs and crime, Children’s Rights Commissioner Leda Koursoumba said yesterday.
Koursoumba said a closed facility needs to be established where these children can be educated, rehabilitated and taken off drugs. Better training and co-ordination between government departments is also needed, she said, to prevent them falling through the cracks.
To highlight the severity of the situation Koursoumba outlined the case of a 15-year-old girl, AA, a victim of domestic violence who dropped out of school, was arrested and detained for drug possession, and ended up in an adult rehabilitation centre. However, without any effective help from the system she continued the drug abuse and her addiction led to her being sexually exploited by a number of adults.
“The system failed to help her stay in school where she would be among peers, failed to help her family that admitted they could not help her. She was mingling with adults who provided her with drugs, and this is unfortunately one case among many,” Koursoumba said.
She said AA’s case was first brought to light in June 2010 when her older sister’s school counsellor contacted Koursoumba’s office to report serious child neglect and possible sexual abuse by the father. He also mentioned AA who had been under the care of the social welfare services in a children’s home, but had returned to the house of her father.
The teen was first arrested in November 2012 for drug possession and was referred to the outpatient rehabilitation programme for teenagers PERSEAS. However she stopped going and refused to return.
According to Koursoumba’s report on safeguarding the rights of child victims of violence and those with substance dependence in April the girl reported her sexual exploitation and abuse by two adults to police and said she had sex with them for drugs. She said another girl, 14, was also involved.
The dates mentioned in the report and the information given refer to the paedophile case that shocked the island in April, when two men, well-known businessman Akis Lefkaritis, 57, and Nicos Nicolaou, 35, were arrested for the sexual exploitation of two girls aged 14 and 15.
Lefkaritis was sentenced to 12 years in jail by the Larnaca District Court after pleading guilty to charges and Nicolaou was sentenced to 10 years in jail.
“I chose to use this specific case as a case-study because I believe it represents a series of complaints that were submitted in recent years and of cases that are known to the police concerning breaches of basic principles and children’s rights such as the principle of securing a child’s best interests and the child’s right to enjoy the best possible health level and have access to these services,” Koursoumba said.
“What is important is that we have a system that it is unable to support children from the same or similar family backgrounds as this girl,” Koursoumba said.
The teenager, who had left school, found herself in a detention cell in April last year after she was found under the influence of drugs in her mother’s home by a social worker. She was then transferred to the local detention centre for three days since a child psychiatrist ruled that the psychiatric wing at Makarios Hospital was deemed as an unsuitable place for her until she could be re-examined on the Monday, after the drugs’ influence wore off.
The report says she went into a withdrawal while in detention and was only transferred to the teenagers’ inpatient hospitalisation department (TENE) at the Makarios Hospital after Koursoumba, notified by a police officer, called the health minister and asked him to intervene.
After her release from hospital the girl returned to her mother’s house as there is no suitable treatment centre for minors on the island. As a result, she was sent for treatment to an adult rehabilitation centre, which she left seven times causing it to discontinue her programme as she continued to use drugs.
“We should have a closed rehabilitation centre for children that are dependent on substances, where they would be in a safe environment, be able to continue their education and be involved in activities appropriate for their age,” Koursoumba said.
She said the handling of the case of this teenager violated basic principles of children’s rights as defined by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child such as the right for securing the best interest of the child, the principle of life, survival and development of the child, the principle to enjoy the best possible health level, the right for protection from every form of violence and from illegal use of substances and the principal of participation.
“Unfortunately as is shown by the evaluation of actions that have so far been made from the relevant services, each department is trying fragmentarily to deal with the difficulties of the teenager, without the necessary cooperation and coordination,” Koursoumba said.
She added that this results in the inability of the state to provide the proper overall care and protection for children, who end up being referred from one service to another without the provision of substantial help to them or their families.
Koursoumba mentions in the report that she had to personally intervene on several occasions to enquire about the actions taken on the handling of the teenager’s case and called several meetings with the relevant services to decide the best practice.
The prompt creation of a protocol for cooperation between the social services and the mental health services is of the highest importance, Koursoumba said, and added that not creating a closed rehabilitation centre for minors was a flagrant breach of their rights to access suitable health services.