THIS country's children do not need new laws, they need political will to enforce existing laws to protect their rights while they are at state-owned or state-funded homes.
This was the view of Opposition Senator David Nakhid during the UNC's weekly Sunday press conference at the Office of the Opposition Leader on Charles Street in Port of Spain.
Asked if legislation was needed to address some of the issues TT faces at its children’s homes, he said what was needed is implementation. He also said the UNC is calling a full audit of the Children’s Authority before it receives any more state funding.
His statements came following the release of the 307-page report titled Safeguarding children in community residences and child support centres in TT. Retired Appeal Court judge Judith Jones led the 11-member Cabinet-committee which compiled the report.
The committee was established to look into abuse at children’s homes and other institutions following the escape of five boys from the Children’s Authority's Valsayn Child Support Centre in March 2021, and the subsequent murder of two of the five boys: Antonio Francois and Simeon Daniel.
Nakhid said on Sunday, “Sometimes the problems can be legislative or sometimes it can just be a matter of implementation. Now when I think it comes to this Government, it has been the latter.
“Nothing has been implemented. There is legislation in place within the authority to account for what goes on in these children’s homes. In fact, the children’s authority has its own investigative unit.
He said the country can legislate forever, but when it comes to implementation, it all boils down to political will. "Are you going to get it done and if you haven’t gotten it done, the question is, why?”
He said these were some of the questions the Opposition are asking Prime Minister Dr Rowley as well as Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister Ayanna Webster-Roy who has responsibility for Gender and Child Affairs.
Nakhid also said he found it very strange that he was not named in the final report although he was invited by the committee headed by Justice Jones to give testimony. He said he did so in August 2021 and his testimony was contained in the final report.
The UNC, he said, is asking why Government took five months to reveal the contents of the report and act on it.
Nakhid said he was asked about the report when nothing had been heard for several months.
“Unbeknownst to us that report was dealt with expeditiously by Justice Jones and given in December to the line minister Ayanna Webster-Roy.”
He also said asked if Webster-Roy handed the report immediately to Rowley since her ministry falls under the Office of the Prime Minister, and if she did not, she should be fired immediately.
If the Prime Minister failed to immediately act, then he should fire himself, Nakhid added.
Nakhid said it was very instructive that Rowley had not issued a statement on the report.
“It is unacceptable to the national community that our children in state care properly financed are treated the way they were treated and are still being treated.”
The Opposition, Nakhid said, does not accept Government spending $126 million to establish an inter-agency task force to implement recommendations of the Justice Jones report.
Attempts to contact Webster-Roy for comment on Sunday were unsuccessful.