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HOME FOR CHRISTMAS

By AZARD ALI Saturday, December 21 2013

AFTER a life on the streets, then days at the Youth Training Centre (YTC) after police held him for stealing a cellphone, a 15-year-old boy’s Christmas wish is coming true. He is going to have a home, after a San Fernando magistrate yesterday sent him to live with his aunt.

Magistrate Lisa Ramsumair-Hinds chose the aunt who attended the San Fernando Magistrates’ Court yesterday along with the boy’s mother.

The mother, who has other children, was allowed visitation rights to her son.

The boy was escorted from YTC and stood next to his mother and aunt before Ramsumair-Hinds in the courtroom.

The boy’s arrest two months ago for stealing a cellphone from a disabled man in a wheelchair, seemed a blessing in disguise, because he once lived on the streets in San Fernando. He begged for money to buy food under the eaves of fast food outlets at Gulf City Shopping Complex. When on December 6 the boy first appeared before Ramsumair-Hinds, he said his mother and father were dead. He asked the magistrate to be allowed to go home with one of the policemen on guard duty in the courtroom. Forced to remand him at YTC, Ramsumair-Hinds conducted a judicial inquiry into the boy’s life and found out that his father died before he was born. He then strayed from his mother and found a life on the streets. At the next court hearing on December 12, the mother turned up in court after the magistrate sent police officers to locate her.

In its very first case since it was established last year, the Children’s Authority of Trinidad and Tobago intervened upon learning of the boy’s plight via media reports of the case, and sought to represent the boy in court on December 12. Yesterday, the Children’s Authority legal affairs manager attorney Renuka Rambhajan, who has taken charge of the boy’s case, reappeared before Ramsumair-Hinds and pleaded for the boy to go home with the aunt for Christmas.

Rambhajan said the authority has since enrolled the boy into a mentorship programme of the Ministry of National Security. A private tutor, she said, is to be assigned to the boy to teach him. The boy is to also attend a programme at the National Energy Skills Centre.

Rambhajan further announced to the court that the Chicago-based charitable oraganisation — DEHIX — run by Trinidadian Dennis Hicks has also chipped in help the boy. The organisation, she said, wants to send the boy school supplies and clothes. Ramsumair-Hinds then commended Rambhajan, a former Acting Senior State Attorney, for the Children Authority’s active pursuit of the boy’s cause, saying, “Ms Rambhajan, you have demonstrated to the nation what the Children’s Authority can do. I hope it gets the support it needs to fulfill its mandate.” Rambhajan had pointed out that the authority was still in its embryonic stage, but soon it would be fully operational as resources, including staff and offices, would see the body intervening in a wide cross-section of cases involving children, such as the homeless boy. The authority operates from an office with a small staff on Wrightson Road, Port-of-Spain.

Rambhajan said, “While the authority is not fully operational, we’re maintaining our philosophy of promoting family reintegration and support for families where feasible for the best interest of the child.”

The magistrate then asked the boy how was YTC and he replied, “Not good.” He had been detained at that institution since his arrest and yesterday, it was learnt that from November 12 since he was last remanded until yesterday, the mother, who lives in a one-bedroom house with her other children had not visited her son at YTC.

In court, the boy stood upright but held one hand behind his back and nibbled on the fingers of the other. A police officer stepped forward and touched the boy and his hands fell to his side. Rambhajan asked Ramsumair-Hinds to send the boy home with the aunt for a period, during which, she would hope that he would prove to the court that YTC is not the place he wants to be in.

Ramsumair-Hinds then lectured to the aunt about her new role, warning her that she should not expect a magical transformation of the boy’s life. The magistrate began by saying, “The best way to change the past, is to leave it behind. And don’t expect a magical turnaround, for if one is in the habit of steupsing you will not stop overnight. So you’re going home for Christmas. M’aam, you are to provide a warm, loving and family environment.”

The magistrate ordered the aunt to sign a bond of $2,000 for the boy’s release into her care. He is not, it was ordered, to leave his aunt’s house after 7 pm. She is to return with him to court on January 17. The magistrate told the court police prosecutor, Sgt Gordon Maharaj, that police officers, especially PC Nazir Mohammed with whom the boy had asked to be allowed to go home with, to pay regular visits to the aunt. It is hoped that the cops would provide the court, the magistrate added, with an unofficial status report on how he adapts to a home environment.

To the mother, Ramsumair-Hinds advised her to buy her son a gift and present it to him on Christmas Day.

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