Politics abusing children: has T&T always been a dark, violent place?

A homemade video of a child being abused and forced to drink milk is yet another window opened into the culture of violence in T&T.

You can be sure that had the perpetrator and amateur filmmaker known that police would be searching for them, they would not have uploaded that video. They would have still abused the child, they may have still filmed it but they would not have endangered themselves by sharing it.

Photo: Are children protected from abuse in Trinidad and Tobago?
Photo: Are children protected from abuse in Trinidad and Tobago?

Very soon, these videos will no longer be available and the social media window into T&T noir will be closed.

What of the thousands of children being similarly brutalised—and then some—who are not filmed and featured in news stories? What of those being savaged as you read this?

There is an epidemic of violence against women and children. Those who write letters to the editor and call in on radio talk shows to ask “What has become of T&T?” have been living under rocks; this has always been a dark, violent place.

Social media and greater public awareness are showing us what has existed for generations and what is largely responsible for the explosion of violent criminality in contemporary times.

It has been just over a month since the general elections. All candidates were busy walking up and down streets, traces and tracks soliciting votes.

Did no candidate notice the dire circumstances of children, women, the elderly, the disabled, the homeless? How many of them spoke to these issues on the campaign platforms? How many citizens demanded that the fate of children, in particular, occupy a place at the top of their list of national priorities?

Photo: Then Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar (left) shakes hands with her successor, Dr Keith Rowley, en route to Nelson Mandela's funeral in South Africa. (Courtesy News.Gov.TT)
Photo: Then Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar (left) shakes hands with her successor, Dr Keith Rowley, en route to Nelson Mandela’s funeral in South Africa.
(Courtesy News.Gov.TT)

Now consider the budget debate in the House of Representatives, the Senate and in the Finance Committee: how much did you hear about children? Did we demand otherwise?

Governments, all governments, need help in the project of governance. Political party supporters do no favours to “their” government when they transmit that “their” government can do no wrong.

Of the 23 government MPs and 15 government senators, how many of them have worked in the social sector generally and with children’s protection specifically? How many of them have any expertise in this area or are networked with people who do?

Sitting in the gender ministry is an action plan for children and families compiled by former minister Verna St Rose-Greaves. After she was unceremoniously removed from the Cabinet, one or two references were drawn from it but follow-through action was discontinued in pure political bad mind.

There are three reports from the unnecessary Child Protection Task Force among a body of literature composed over decades on the welfare of children and families.

Forgive me as I repeat ad nauseam that until the Children Act (2012), government after government was satisfied with legislation on children dating back to 1925 and the package of legislation to protect and nurture children drafted under then attorney general Ramesh Lawrence-Maharaj remained untouched under two PNM administrations only to be rushed through Parliament in the dying hours of the PP administration. The consequence is that there are legal provisions in place with very few supporting structures.

Photo: Corporal punishment is no excuse for child abuse.
Photo: Corporal punishment is no excuse for child abuse.

Two-storey ignorance, as the late Trevor Farrell would say. Governments do not know and they do not know that they do not know. Civil society under each administration has had to massage political egos and ease into the topic to enhance the likelihood of their ideas being adopted.

What is required is committed, national, integrated problem-solving involving all ministries and divisions and political leadership on the welfare of children so no one drops the ball. And where is this effort to be co-ordinated if not in a ministry dedicated to the task?

It cannot be done from a desk in a dark corner of a large, unwieldy ministry that has in the past demonstrated its inability to perform this function.

We need more and properly trained social workers; UWI can be enlisted through GATE to provide relevant training. Professional delivery of services along with constant tracking and monitoring of children can reduce the risk of abuse.

A fully staffed TTPS Child Protection Unit, a properly resourced Children’s Authority, a few facilities to house and properly care for children in State care and so much more.

Photo: School children pose.
Photo: School children pose.

Those of us who work in this sector know the problems and we know the solutions. But politics keeps pushing against progress and ultimately abusing those most vulnerable.

To report child abuse, call 996 or 800-2014.

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  1. When we fail to accept that, “we are not human beings having a spiritual experience, but spiritual beings having a human experience” (De Chardin), we show an inclination of carelessness toward the truth, become surreptitious, and camouflage in all “playing fields” and “playouts”. We are now lost and nasty and are destined to pay the price; if not now, into our children’s years.

  2. I agree with Nerisha. We have to look at institutions and spaces where children are served so that we can negate the instances of abuse to children through policy and system development for such organizations as well as the training of those entrusted with the responsibility to develop children. One such environment is the sport environment. With the proliferation of sport camps run by NGB’s, sports clubs, PE teachers and other well meaning citizens there is need to ensure that this happens is an environment where child protection is paramount.

  3. Yes TT has always been a violent, dark, oppressive place, as far back as I can remember, and each wave f politicians promises to do better…yeah, right.. Here’s a suggestion for what we can do with TT politicians, send them to Germany – http://www.wsj.com/articles/germans-have-a-burning-need-for-more-garbage-1445306936

  4. We lived between two families and my father though older and ill, had to frequently intervene when the wives were being beaten by their drunk, angry, frustrated husbands and both of them were policemen.
    Often too he was stopping these unhappy women from beating their terrified children. This violence (because most floggings are) is often a sign of a bigger problem.

    While i did punish my young children for being naughty i stopped hitting them (because that is what spanking is) when i realised i was wrong and taking out my frustration at not coping well as a young wife and mother with an absent husband / co parent. I found other ways of correcting their misdeeds. Children learn by example and copy what they see adults do. It will take far more than money to fix this perpetuation of violence that is indoctrinated into this society. Those who boast that they were beaten by their parents and elders and are better of for it today should take very long looks inside their psyche and see if this is indeed true.

  5. Nerisha is so right in so many ways; we’re in the habit of looking at effects and rarely at causes, which is where we really need to look. I want to add, though, that a large part of the problem is the culture of secrecy, of silence that bedevils us. When I was growing up with Eric Williams in charge, Woodford Square used to be called “The University of Woodford Square” because ordinary people would congregate there to have their say on the issues of the day. No more. Or at least, not to the same degree.
    So we need to be thankful for the social media in general and, a fortiori, for Wired868 which is making a concerted effort to bring serious opinion to the people and bring serious people to express opinion here. (NB please, Amery Browne) Talk, methinks, genuine, serious, sustained public talk is where the real work for change begins.

  6. One of the shortcomings or avenues for change that was not addressed would be the support institutions. I would prefer that we look at the issue holistically-cause and effect-rather than just effect. Our families need strengthening-through strong support in the homes via support of extended families; through support in churches; at schools; within our parliament-and all must carry the same unified message. But instead women are forced to stay in abusive relationships just to survive; children in this age living in shacks without lights, water and plumbing, with no privacy, frustrated parents working hard to barely survive, leaving home early and getting home late to cook and supervise homework; children with no support from communities where elders see wrongdoing but do not correct the young or alert the parents; parents who are affronted when wrongdoing is brought to their attention. As a nation, we need to take a time out and bring back some inner peace into our lives through reflection of where we are at and where we want to go before we can move forward.

  7. This is a very serious issue but the discussion is not really advanced by such a poorly researched column. It offers no insight into how the underlying culture of violence developed or how it can be effectively addressed, and her section that attempts to examine the history of our child protection laws is completely erroneous.

    • Can you give us anything more on either point Amery? Our supposed culture of violence or the history of our child protection laws?

      • Yeah. Wholeheartedly agree. Not “Can you give us…” but “Will you give us…” Surely your response ought to be a properly researched, deadly accurate, highly informative column which, I think, Lasana is implicitly saying he will have NO HESITATION in publishing. You should feel morally bound to correct the errors and fill the gaps.

    • Well I do know about the recent history of child protection laws that she attempted to allude to, as I formed and led a multi-selectoral committee that painstakingly reviewed every single clause within the package, and updated and finalized a series of amendment bills, as the very first actions of Ministry of SD upon being elected in 2007…leaning heavily on local experiences and international best practice (and the work initially done by Ramesh Maharaj). Each of those Bills were brought to the Parliament during that period and they were all successfully passed, finally, with the rare achievement of full bipartisan support for each. These updated Laws included the International Child Abduction Act, the Children’s Authority Act, the Children’s Community Residences, Foster Care and Nurseries Act, and the Adoption of Children Act. The exception was the Children Bill which I also tabled and piloted in the Lower House but some Parliamentarians thought was too strong in some respects; that was the only one that was sent to a Special Select Committee of the Lower House. A series of other specific actions related to bringing child protection into the modern age occured during that short period, including the identification and induction for the first time of a Children’s Authority Board of Directors (which was given a 3 year timeframe for full operationalization), the recruiting of initial staff, the procurement of headquarters for the Authority and putting administrative arrangements in place to support its efficient operationalization including assignment of a dedicated Deputy PS to give specific support, and allocation of start up funding. This momentum ground to a halt in 2010 in part due to a successor in the MSD who had very different priorities, and subsequently under the Ministry of Gender Youth and Child Development the updated Children Bill was again tabled, with some further changes. That specific Bill was eventually piloted by Verna SRG and succeeded unanimously.
      This sequence in our recent history has been clarified on numerous occasions, it forms part of the public record and a brief review of the Parliament’s website would provide much detail. Such basic research would have been useful to your otherwise generally excellent columnist. With regard to our culture of violence including violence against our children, a proper examination of same in any future column might involve an anthropologist and include some background, a situational analysis and some recommendations at minimum.

  8. There’s an epidemic of violence against men too. It’s all interconnected.

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