THE EDITOR: Yesterday the world observed Universal Children’s Day, a day that also marks “the anniversary of the date that the UN General Assembly adopted both the declaration and the convention on children’s rights.” Children's Day gives us an opportunity to reflect on what it is like to be a child in TT and in the world today. I focus on the situation in TT.
TT’s 2016 Universal Periodic Review lists a package of legislation and framework for the protection of children, proclaimed on May 18, 2015, by the president, including the Children Act, 2012, the Children’s Authority Act, 2000, and the Children’s Authority Regulations, 2014.
In reality how are we protecting our children and promoting their welfare? In February Children’s Authority chairman Haniff Benjamin stated that since the inception of the Children’s Authority in 2015 there have been more than 55,000 calls for child protection, of which 13,500 required their intervention.
He said that “from last year into this year we have seen some of the most atrocious acts against our children ... We are receiving 20 to 30 calls a day for care and protection.”
In TT the rights of many children are violated because of, example, poverty and social exclusion, child abuse, incest, and domestic violence. There have been a number of heinous murders perpetrated against children over the past ten years. And we need role models and mentors to save our children from being lured to join gangs.
The recent report by the Police Service’s Child Protection Unit states that there is a considerable increase in child sexual penetration and touching as compared to 2017 – three reports of child sexual abuse per day – with a 59 per cent increase in child sexual penetration, and a 79 per cent increase in sexual touching in 2018. The police are asking parents to be vigilant, to monitor who their children see, and to be aware of the prevalence of cyber predators.
We must address issues affecting their parents/guardians/families, eg unemployment, poor skills, low incomes, poor housing, high crime environments, bad health, and family breakdown. Some minors are employed in family businesses, in the agricultural sector etc and either drop out of school or miss many days of school. Some minors are rearing children of their own.
If we do not address the deficiencies in our education system we will continue to fail a large proportion of our children. Some children face discrimination because of perceptions about the kind of people who live in the areas in which they live with their families. About ten per cent of TT’s children are disabled. Do we have data on the nature and extent of their needs? Are we targeting resources to meet their needs?
The July US State Department’s 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report once again stated that TT is deemed to be “a destination, transit, and source country for adults and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labour.” The 14 victims of human trafficking rescued and sent for care last year included two minors – one male and one female.
TT has a draft policy dealing with migrants and refugees, but no legislation. There are more than 300 children in need of access to comprehensive education among those who have come to our shores seeking refuge. As they wait, UNICEF and the Living Water Community seek to meet their educational needs – albeit limited.
All government ministries should examine their policies, procedures and practices to evaluate their impact on children.The media have a crucial role in highlighting all forms of discrimination against children and in championing their cause. I call on all faith communities, and communities in general, to commit to create environments in which our children can thrive and grow to realise their potential.