THE LAYING of a criminal charge in relation to the case of 13-year-old Trinity College student Joash Pantin will hopefully go some way to bringing this awful matter to some degree of resolution.
While the details now stand to be determined by judicial officials, it is clear enough several aspects of the State’s handling of the matter raised questions. An autopsy, so vital in the process of investigation, was inconclusive due, it is said, to the advanced state of decomposition of the body.
Joash’s body was found two days after he was reported missing near the family home. Relatives said investigators told them the boy might have been strangled. However, this was not confirmed. Many conflicting reports emerged, and it is now for the court, and possibly a jury, to find guilt or innocence.
For now, however, what must be said is we agree with director of the Children’s Authority Safiya Noel who on Wednesday, speaking in general terms, lamented that our nation is failing our children. Sadly, Joash’s case is only the latest to shock the nation. Time and time again reports are received of women and men abusing girls and boys. Frequently, a grandmother, grandfather, uncle, sibling, aunt, stepmother, stepfather or family friend is implicated.
“Often it can be the child’s mother or father who is perpetrating the abuse,” Noel said.
While religious figures have called on churches to unite to fight this problem, religious institutions have a poor record in this regard. For example, the child abuse scandal continues to rock the Roman Catholic Church.
It may be more fruitful to ask whether secular state agencies such as the Children’s Authority have enough resources to do their work.
And what of the Police Service, the Forensic Sciences Centre and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, which has a big staff shortage and where there is limited office space?
As a society, we have not even begun to scratch the surface when it comes to deeper issues such as whether enough psychological care is being given to victims to prevent them from repeating the cycle. In this regard, the community plays a very important role. But as Noel pointed out, it is really often within the family that these violations take place.
How can we empower children to recognise when they are being groomed and preyed upon? One answer might be sex education. Such education can demystify things, giving children the tools they need to be vigilant.
It is sad the Children’s Authority has had cause to open a separate outlet in south Trinidad to cater for the high volume of reports in districts there. But that, at least, is a step in the right direction.