THE CHILLING revelation of the horrors meted out to our children in various children’s homes is enough to make this nation drop on its knees and hang its head in shame. Did we really not know? Did we have to wait for a written report in black and white shoved under a national microscope to bring our conscience into play?
I have decided not to recall the instances of such horrific abuse. After all, it is plastered all over the media. A tragedy of this proportion cannot be treated in isolation. It is one of the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle falling into place.
Here, people molest and abuse children. Here, children are beaten by parents and slapped by teachers. Schoolchildren beat up each other. Our womenfolk are physically and verbally abused, raped and murdered. Women and children are trafficked. Venezuelan women are stigmatised. And, of course, there is the murder rate which is skyrocketing as we speak.
Did we really need a report to tell us what staggering disrespect we show to human life?
This callous and apathetic approach some have to each other is a stain in our nation’s conscience. What is it about us that we constantly need some manifestation of the whip over our backs before we can manifest our good sense and humanity?
Have we become numb to life because of intolerable traffic, intolerable waiting time for appointments at our nation’s hospitals and intolerable bank lines to collect old age pension? Is it that the only way that the authorities listen to our water woes is to burn tyres? Is it that we will get a wage increase when we riot? Can our women wear jewellery with any confidence? Can we send our child to the parlour down the road and genuinely not wonder if he/she will ever return?
These random questions, taken together, tell us that we are in dire straits as a nation. Daily living seems to be a battlefield where we have adopted the defensive position for far too long. We have lost our innocence. We have lost confidence in the fundamental human idea that we should be guaranteed a life of safety, at the very least. Even if this government has lost its way in generating prosperity and comfort for its citizens, we should never have had to worry about the safety of all people, especially our women and children.
I can say without fear of contradiction that everyone in Trinidad and Tobago feels unsafe. The rollout of crime plan after crime plan makes us feel like hampsters on a wheel, going nowhere fast. Except in this version, the wheel is on fire.
The damning report on children’s homes and the abuse inflicted on them is not merely a failure of institutions. It is not merely in legislative failure. It is a failure of our ability to act humanely, to exercise basic humanity. No one needs laws to tell them how to have a conscience.
No doubt psychologists would have a field day trying to psychoanalyse the matrons and other people in authority who perpetrated child abuse. Were they themselves abused as children? Were they never told that they were loved or cherished or admired? Do they inflict similar abuse on their own children? These are probably some of the hard questions that we have to answer as a society.
I have strongly advocated for our women to be respected, protected and cherished. Yet the number of women who suffered at the hands of their attackers and abusers is just plain staggering. Like these women, our vulnerable children are a hunted class. Indeed, they are all hopeless prey, with a bullseye on their backs, merely for not having a voice, nor the needed support that could have ultimately extinguished systemic abuse. Predators roam this land with impunity. And the cycle is being repeated across the generations.
Strengthening laws and pumping money into the system as is, can hardly compensate for the loss of innocence and trauma that these children have endured. No doubt this kind of abuse has caused untold damage and irreparable harm to human beings. It has dramatically altered the course of their lives. They never had a fighting chance since the very ones who were there to protect them failed them in the most horrible ways possible. The secrecy surrounding this calamity for so long is the “best-kept” and at the same time “most-known” secret around town. Yet the children were not saved.
When you look into the face of the child, you ought to see two things: yourself and your future. What you pour into them will ultimately shape who you are and what your future holds for you personally. It is a sobering thought that one day, we as adults, who today wield power over children, will become old and feeble and be at their very mercy. It does not matter that such a child is not your family. It only matters that these children, all our children, will collectively be the future of Trinidad and Tobago that we are walking into.
Dinesh Rambally is the Member of Parliament for Chaguanas West