Sun | Dec 11, 2016

Danger in the dark - Predawn commute by students putting them at risk

Published:Sunday | March 8, 2015 | 12:00 AMRyon Jones
Students from Jonathan Grant High School in Spanish Town St.Catherine, entering a taxi on their way to school at the break of day last Thursday.
A Queens High School student at her gate in Old Harbour, St Catherine awaiting transportation to get to school in the wee hours of the morning.
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Despite several reports of children being sexually assaulted and even killed during the early-morning commute to schools, the practice is continuing with children, some as young as seven, being seen making their way on the roadways from as early as 4 a.m.

In the most recent case, seven-year-old Kadesha Cousins was abducted and murdered as she made her way to Waterford Primary late last year. But still, the long distances which some students have to

travel to get to school leaves them no option but to hit the road long before dawn.

Last week, our news team visited rural St Andrew and sections of St Catherine where students attending almost every school in the Corporate Area were seen trying to get buses or taxis while the moon still governed the sky.

 

On the road at 4 a.m.

 

One student, 17-year-old Travis Gordon of Glengoffe, St Catherine, told our news team that he hits the road by 4 a.m. every day to get to Jamaica College on time.

"Being on the road so early and at times you have to walk certain distances, depending on where you live, and you don't know what lies in the bushes and other places waiting on you, so they can take your lunch money or your phones or even worse," said Travis.

Eleven-year-old Malik Siddon now leaves his house "when day light out" because he has heard of the number of children being killed, and out of fear he "stopped coming out on Old Harbour Road to seek transportation while it is still dark". But this change has resulted in his being late for school on occasions.

On the occasions where parents were seen accompanying the students, it was mainly the girls who enjoyed this level of protection.

"I think parents look out for girls' safety more than they do the boys," said 13-year-old Calabar student Kemmani Barrett, who makes the long walk from his house to Lawrence Tavern by himself from as early as 4:30 in the mornings.

One parent who is not taking any chances with her 12-year-old daughter is Hyacinth Lewis of Longvile Park, St Catherine, who has seen up close and personal the dangers which face children when they are left on their own to get to school early in the mornings.

"I had another daughter and at age 14 she was murdered; one gunshot to the kidney," Lewis revealed, while pointing out that no one has been held for the murder.

"So when my 12-year-old is not with me I am really, really scared, as I think schoolchildren are targets," added Lewis, as she noted that she travels with her daughter, Ladonnice Smith, into Kingston most days as the child makes her way to Camperdown High School.

"I don't like the way that the drivers and conductors have their hands all over the kids. I have made it clear that I don't want any driver or conductor all over her and we have been verbally abused because of my stance," said Lewis.

"My daughter who was murdered was molested by a taxi man at age 12. And I believe that her death had something to do with it. There is no evidence to prove it, but I believe it does, because she was emotionally destroyed," said Lewis.

 

Predators love the dark

 

Sixteen-year-old Cynthia Williams, who travels from Angels Estate in Spanish Town to Jonathan Grant High, agreed that some operators of public passenger vehicles are sexual predators who target students.

Early-morning and late-evening travel provide ample cover for predators to attack unsuspecting children on the long trek to and from school.

"I get a lot of them coming on to me asking me if I can talk to them and I will say 'no I am going to school', and they ask, 'what does that have to do with it?'. Some of them even try to touch me and put their hands around me and I have to make them know not to touch me," said the teenager.

But veteran taxi driver, Hubert Plumber, who plies the Dam Head to Spanish Town route, said some of the schoolgirls are the ones who make the advances to the public-transport operators and some of his colleagues are not strong enough to resist their advances.

"They come on to me many, many times and me have to run dem weh; some of the other drivers can't manage it," said Plumber.

ryon.jones@gleanerjm.com