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DEADLY Cocktail - Sterling Castle Heights says lack of basic infrastructure putting children in danger

Published:Saturday | April 27, 2019 | 12:19 AMPaul Clarke/Gleaner Writer
Residents searching the bushes in Sterling Castle Heights on April 15 as they tried to locate eight-year-old Shantae Skyers, who went missing on her way home from school on April 11. Her body was discovered the following day.
Residents searching the bushes in Sterling Castle Heights on April 15 as they tried to locate eight-year-old Shantae Skyers, who went missing on her way home from school on April 11. Her body was discovered the following day.

As the police lament the high number of sexual abuse cases in the St Andrew North Police Division in which Sterling Castle Heights falls, residents are saying that they are fighting tough battles on several fronts in trying to safely traverse the community.

Sterling Castle Heights grabbed national headlines last week after the body of eight-year-old Shantae Skyers was discovered among rubble in a section of the community. After failing to return home from school on Thursday, April 11, relatives reported the young girl missing. Her body was discovered in the Blue Hole section of the community after a five-day search, and the community set upon one man, beating and killing him, accusing him of hiding information that could have shed light on what happened to Skyers.

At a community meeting organised by the police to discuss security issues in the area on Thursday, Superintendent Charmaine Shand, who heads the Centre for Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse, said that the number of sexual abuse cases involving children in the division was startling.

“Prior to coming here, I checked the statistics for the St Andrew North area, where we have 55 cases of sexual abuse of children reported since the start of this year. Our children are being abused, and we are seeing it, yet we are not talking. It is wrong, it is wrong, it is wrong,” said Shand.

Speaking on behalf of the Sterling Castle Heights Citizens’ Association, Elicia Bethune said that extenuating circumstances in the community are putting children in danger, including high transportation fares to and from school due to bad roads.

“Taxi doesn’t come into the community because the roads are too bad,” she told the meeting. “What we heard is that it takes $600 round trip for a child – no matter how old that child is – to move from Red Hills Primary to Sterling Castle Heights.

“Six hundred dollars per day is not an easy thing for some people no matter how rich or poor or in between. Six hundred dollars is a lot of money. Hence, ... some people can’t pay that amount of money per day, along with lunch money and books. These things are real,” said Bethune.

She said that as a result, children coming from school in the evenings – after sometimes leaving extra classes as late as 5 p.m. – are forced to use side paths and bushy tracks in a bid to get home in a reasonable time.

With the Blue Hole route young Skyers had taken to get home having only one malfunctioning street light – which “has its own personality” – the circumstances provide the perfect cocktail for disaster.

“And so because we do not have proper roads, our children are left where? At the edge of the community. They are forced to walk in an area that has one street light. And it’s so temperamental – sometimes it flickers on then flickers off. Then if you drive past, it turn off, and then it comes back on. It has its own personality. Now that entire stretch is at least 10 minutes walk,” she said of the path Skyers took daily from school before she was abducted and killed.

Even more worrisome, according to her, is the fact that the Red Hills Police Station has only one working vehicle to serve several communities, including Wharfers Hill, Cypress Hall, Rock Hall, Padmore, and Sterling Castle, with a combined population of nearly 25,000 people.

paul.clarke@gleanerjm.com