INDEPENDENT Senator Hazel Thompson-Ahye yesterday asked if child pornography or prostitution is being under-reported in the nation’s schools. She asked the question at a public hearing held by the Human Rights, Equality and Diversity Joint Select Committee (JSC) at the Parliament Building. Thompson-Ahye wondered if this was a case of principals trying “to protect the reputation of the schools.”
JSC chairman Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly agreed about the under-reporting of these matters in schools. She said it could be a case of principals trying to handle things in house or teachers not reporting the matters to the principals. As a parent of three children of school age, Gadsby-Dolly said she did not know what systems were in place to address these issues in the school system.
Acting Chief Education Officer John Roopchan said child pornography and prostitution does not “appear to be a large problem.” Roopchan said “the nature of the thing” could be a reason why cases of child pornography or prostitution in schools are not reported. He said the ministry is trying to discourage this behaviour and reports these matters to the police. Thompson-Ahye also spoke about complaints at a particular school about the dress code of the principal.
Roopchan said cell phone usage in schools is left to the discretion of principals. Roopchan and acting Education Ministry permanent secretary Kurt Mayer told JSC members the ministry is implementing measures to protect children from these scourges. Thompson-Ahye said she was shocked to learn the ages of children involved in child pornography and prostitution. “We have the new technology and the children are way ahead of us.”
She said a restorative approach was needed for students who find themselves embroiled in these situations. Gadsby-Dolly said some reports claim the global child pornography industry earns approximately US$20 billion annually. But she added it was “difficult to verify very nature of this type of trade.”
Children Authority director Safiya Noel said there is no single profile for the alleged perpetrators. “It is across all the different domains.” Noel added the dual reporting of these matters between the authority and the police “works like clockwork.” Cybercrime Unit inspector Amos Sylvester said Police Commissioner Gary Griffith had promised to increase resources for the unit. Sylvester said there are few instances where child pornography videos are sent directly to the police. Many of these posts originate outside of TT. Sylvester said the assistance of the Central Authority at the Ministry of the Attorney General and Legal Affairs is sought in these instances.