Shaik Baksh it’s ok for children to use pit latrines in schools
Pit latrines part of developing country syndrome, Sukhai says
By STABROEK STAFF
– ‘child-friendly infrastructure’ needed
Minister of Amerindian Affairs, Pauline Sukhai, says she “suspects” that some schools in Guyana still use pit latrines because the country is still developing economically and “still grappling with removing ourselves from the level of a developing country and moving towards a higher level… which is a challenge to the government.”
Speaking to Stabroek News on the issue, following the death last week of a nine-year-old girl after she fell into a pit latrine, Sukhai said placing child-friendly infrastructure in schools needed to be examined.
The issue of pit latrines has become a matter of public debate following the tragic death of Tenesha De Souza last Monday. The child fell into a pit latrine at the Santa Rosa Primary School at Moruca on her first day of school and subsequently died. Her parents and a number of individuals and organisations have since called for flush toilets to be installed at all schools. The parents have said that they did not want any other parent to endure the hurt they were forced to suffer, following the death of their eldest child and only daughter.
However, while these calls are being made, Minister of Education, Shaik Baksh, has told Stabroek News that his ministry did not intend to phase-out the use of pit latrines in schools since they were internationally accepted as proper sanitary disposal. He had added though that maybe in another few years the issue would be addressed, but it would be a very expensive exercise.
Sukhai, while calling the death of De Souza a tragic and unfortunate one, said “we as a government” need to “examine further the preparing of child-friendly infrastructure particularly as it relates to education.
“We all consider it a tragedy in the case of Santa Rosa. Again, I would want to say it was very unfortunate. It may not be a prevalent incident, but it is … one too many. That is what I would say; we cannot say it doesn’t concern us,” Sukhai said.
She said that while her ministry was not entirely responsible for the infrastructure of schools, “I wouldn’t say it is not a concern to us… due to the fact that a child died in a pit latrine [we cannot] divorce ourselves from having any concern at all.”
She said the government, “may not be able to address the conversion of all pit latrines to flush toilets or what we call it – water closets, but definitely I think we would have to consider for the future, making more safer facilities available to our children.”
She added that this should not only apply to schools and children but also to institutions for differently-abled persons and the elderly.
“I think generally while we would still have to work and live with many communities using pit latrines, I am sure that our policy makers need to examine, for the future, how we [would] move from where we are. I suppose as Guyana is able to acquire more resources that we will be able to improve on it.”
Meanwhile, well-known Amerindian rights advocate, Guy Marco, commenting on the issue on Stabroek News’ website said the village council of Moruca “should stop the villagers from sending their children to school until workers from the Ministry of Education arrive there with at least one toilet bowl and other materials to begin working on the flushable toilet.” He said there was no excuse since Moruca was one of the locations that was “within reach easily.”
“If the government can spend so much millions of dollars to create an Amer-indian Village for Carifesta… And since the President [Bharrat Jagdeo) himself said that he would not hesitate if he had to do it again… Then Mr President we don’t want another village to be built but just buy us one toilet bowl, materials to build the septic tank and pay the workers,” Marco said.
He pointed out that two persons from Moruca have since been made Amerindian Affairs ministers and questioned why they “couldn’t negotiate with the government for at least two more flushable toilets?”
The school has two flush toilets. One is currently out of order, but they are only for teachers’ use.
Meanwhile, the parents of the child, Robin and Vanessa De Souza said they are still grappling with the tragedy. They lamented that they almost lost her eight years ago when she fell into a pond, resulting in the loss of her speech, and as such, it was hard to accept that she died when she fell into a pit latrine on her first day at school.