Former minister breaks silence on child-abuse reports: ‘A lot of ugly in Trinidad and Tobago’

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Former senator Verna St Rose Greaves offers words of comfort to the mother of teenager Antonio Francois at the Forensic Science Centre after he and another boy were murdered in Laventille after escaping a Children’s Authority community residence in March 2021. (FILE PHOTO) –

FORMER social development minister Verna St Rose Greaves left no one unscathed regarding the protection of children in Trinidad and Tobago. Among those to feel her wrath were the Government, Opposition, religious leaders, non-governmental organisations (including women’s groups), media and the wider population.

St Rose Greaves spoke during an interview on I95.5 FM’s Take Two programme with host Dominic Kalipersad on Sunday.

A considerable part of the interview focused on the findings in a report of a Cabinet-appointed committee to investigate reports of abuse at children’s homes and matters related to it. She said the report underscored levels of pretension and corruption at all levels of society, and that the situation spanned decades and was encouraged by many people.

St Rose Greaves observed that many people prefer to see TT’s inclusion when it comes to things like Carnival. But, she continued, they conveniently ignore another side of the national identity.

“It is everywhere. It cannot be separated from the wider society. We also have the ugly…and we have a lot of ugly. We have to learn to see it for what it is.”

St Rose Greaves said successive governments have failed to do anything meaningful to protect children. She believes the present government is overwhelmed. Asked what she would say to the Prime Minister on this matter, St Rose Greaves said, “I need an audience with you. Let’s sit down and talk. Let’s start with an open mind.”

She added that she is a resident of Covigne, which falls in the Diego Martin West constituency, which Dr Rowley represents in Parliament.

St Rose Greaves was not confident the appointment of a task force to investigate abuse at children’s homes would offer any real solutions. Rowley announced the creation of the task force at a post-Cabinet news conference at the Diplomatic Centre on May 5.

St Rose Greaves said, “I saw a disconnected Prime Minister read a script.”

She added that Rowley spent more time at that briefing dealing with allegations against Youth Development and National Service Minister Foster Cummings, and corruption than the abuse of children.

“I can’t force you to feel, but can’t you see future generations are being destroyed?”

St Rose Greaves said Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar and the UNC were no better at protecting children. While never mentioning Persad-Bissessar by name, she used phrases often used by Persad-Bissessar to make her point.

“‘I’m a mother and a grandmother and our children are precious. God in front and I walk behind.’” St Rose Greaves said while these things sound good, “You’re not doing what you’re supposed to do.” She alleged that many of her former UNC-led People’s Partnership coalition parliamentary colleagues never read children’s legislation which her ministry drafted for Parliament. St Rose Greaves declined to comment on a statement by former government minister Manohar Ramsaran that he had no personal interest in a 1997 task force committee report into children’s homes.

She said no religious leader in TT has done anything over the years to help protect children.

“One way or another, they have been doing it.”

St Rose Greaves was asked what advice she would give RC Archbishop Charles Jason Gordon and Anglican Bishop Claude Berkely on this matter

“Nothing, because they know what they’re supposed to know.” She suggested that religious leaders stop talking about God and love “until they do what is right by our children.”

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and women’s groups do little to nothing to protect children. On the former, St Rose Greaves said, “They have sold their voices.”

She claimed once NGOs receive subventions from any government, they lose their credibility. The latter, she continued, seem out of touch with reality. “

The women’s movement has to do some re-examination of its messaging too.”

St Rose Greaves also said some elements in the media are not genuinely interested in protecting children.

She was not surprised by the committee’s findings of staff at children’s homes abusing residents.

“I have got reports.”

St Rose Greaves said some residents who “age out” leave the homes and return as workers. She claimed some have sexual relations with young girls in the homes and babies have been born.

“Who are these babies?”

She also claimed one children’s home “got political protection over the years.” She did not name the home.

She lamented that most people ignore situations where children are being abused, but remains hopeful that this could change.

“I will always remain hopeful to my last breath.”