UNC, MSJ, PEP, NTA: Do more to protect children

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

MSJ political leader David Abdulah.

SEVERAL political parties are urging that more should be done to protect children from abuse in children’s homes and to prevent school fights.

The call comes amid several reports of school violence, the Justice Jones report on abuse in children’s homes and revelations contained in the 25-year-old Sabga report, which also detailed acts of abuse and violence against children, which it investigated back in 1997.

UNC HITS FEEBLE GOVERNMENT

For the Opposition UNC, Princes Town MP Barry Padarath, in a statement, recently accused the Prime Minister of “a weak and feeble series of excuses” over the handling of abuse in children’s homes. He claimed little urgency by Government to review the licensing, monitoring and supervising of children’s homes.

Padarath said if unlicensed homes did not meet the requisite standard and criteria, the Children’s Authority must make suitable and safe alternative arrangements for the children in their care until errant homes could comply.

He proposed a national commission on children, a children’s ombudsman, an enhanced Child Protection Unit of the police and more teeth for the Children’s Authority. He urged a review of the process of adoption.

Padarath told Newsday, “What we are saying is that there must be an alternative in order to take the children out of that toxic environment and ensure they are in a safe and conducive environment until there’s proper supervision and the homes can be dealt with in terms of meeting the regulations and becoming licensed and fitting the criteria.

“It is irresponsible, heartless and cruel to allow children to continue to function in these environments, subjected to rape, abuse and even murder. There should be alternative arrangements.”

MSJ: THIS IS NOT NEW

Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) political leader David Abdulah told Newsday, “This is not a new issue. There have been previous studies and reports on abuse of children in children’s homes. Successive governments have failed to implement recommendations. We as a society have been failing our children who are at risk.”

Abdulah said the MSJ was extremely disturbed by the Jones report, publicised four months after its submission in December.

“That was not acceptable: the Government having the report for four months and, despite what the Prime Minister has said, clearly dragged its feet on this situation.”

He said the MSJ is discussing school violence and children in the care of state-run and funded homes.

“Coming out of those talks, the MSJ would formulate a more concrete proposal on child rights and how we protect our children.”

PEP: HOMES UNSCRUPULOUSProgressive Empowerment Party (PEP) head Phillip Edward Alexander said children’s homes unethically used children to bring in state funds, without adequate accountability.

“Under PEP’s social development master plan, the Ministry of Education will come under the Ministry of Social Development and all children (will be) mapped and accounted for as long as they are minors.

“Purpose-built ten-year schools will have guidance counsellors and therapists to interact regularly with all children, be they from traditional homes or foster/state homes, especially those identified as difficult; and teachers and medical professionals mandated by law to report any and all suspicions of abuse.”

Alexander said it took a village to raise a child, but in Trinidad and Tobago, the village has been destroyed by greed.

“We need solid plans that work and people of integrity in office to carry them out.”

Alexander said the situation with school violence did not start in the schools, but was reflected the crumbling of society, especially the poorer communities.

“Too many children do not find guidance at home, as parents are either busy working multiple jobs to survive, or in many cases fathers are absent, incarcerated or dead. So they are adding to the growing gang population as they look for somewhere to fit in and belong.”

NTA: PUBLIC DESENSITISED

Head of the fledgling National Transformation Alliance (NTA), former police commissioner Gary Griffith, said as head of the police, he created the Child Protection Unit, but lamented that TT has accepted abuse as a norm.

“When I made a major raid a few years ago, we found dozens of elderly people in cages held against their will, shackled and handcuffed. The public and our society has become immune to this type of treatment.”

Griffith also warned of abuse in TT’s homes for the elderly.

He proposed certain systems to allow victims to come forward to give evidence without fear of reprisal.

“This was instrumental in the reduction of gender-based violence when we set up the Gender Based Violence Unit.

“You can also have specific operatives within these institutions who even those people who run it are not aware…are linked to law enforcement. You can’t just put police patrols outside of the school.

“We were going to put covert operatives, undercover officers, within the school, so that even the schoolteachers and the children would not be aware. It could be a gardener, a lawn man, a teacher.”

This could be done for TT’s 25 most at-risk schools, the NTA leader said.

“This was not just to stop school violence. We understood that some schools were being used as a front for drug lords and for gang members to recruit young men into gangs and to hire them to become ‘mules’ to transport drugs.”