ON THE eve of World Children’s Day, police alerted by a Freeport resident rescued a baby girl, crying and covered in ants, from bushes near Beaucarro Junction. The dehydrated child was taken to the Chaguanas Health Facility and is currently in the care of the State.
It was, in some ways, a story coloured with biblical hues. Faced with unbearable circumstances, Yocheved cast her son Moses in a basket among reeds, the river weeds of the Nile. That biblical mother and child were reunited through the machinations of the daughter of the Pharaoh.
In 2020, police investigators are still searching for the mother of the abandoned child. Freeport residents believe the child is not from the area and might have been left by someone living elsewhere.
It’s unlikely that the mother will come forward voluntarily, as she may face fines and a prison sentence for abandonment, neglect and abuse that range from $5,000 and six years on summary conviction to $50,000 and ten years for an indictable offence.
Clinical therapist and traumatologist Hanif Benjamin, former chairman of the Children’s Authority, has called for improved systems to accommodate desperate parents who want to leave a child in a place of safety.
There are have other comparable incidents, of course. In August, an eight-year-old boy and his six-year-old sister were found abandoned at an apartment in El Dorado.
In March 2018, a three-year-old boy abandoned in a cardboard box at Montrose was reunited with his father after a chaotic mix-up with caregivers.
The authority reported in a release on World Children’s Day that it received 4,000 reports of child abuse each year, many of them committed by elders in a position of trust. The three leading forms of abuse experienced by children are sexual abuse, physical abuse and neglect.
The authority warned that since the covid19 lockdown in March, “there has been a growing number of children who are lacking care and guardianship, being emotionally abused and in need of supervision.” For children who safely make it into the care of the State, the position remains bleak.
There are hundreds of children living at the 40 orphanages and children’s homes in TT, yet only around eight children are adopted each year.
It’s not because there aren’t potential parents willing to adopt. Birth parents can give up care of their children but also retain the right to refuse adoption, leaving children in an unfortunate limbo. The Children’s Authority has done much to raise its profile, along with public awareness of the needs and rights of children.
But its proactive efforts must go much further, to address the institutional challenges that limit options for orphaned or otherwise unparented children, and compassionately governed muscle must be included into the laws to protect them.