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Save our children

By Janelle De Souza Monday, December 23 2013

Persons should stop blaming the community, Government or religion for the fate of children in the country, and question parents on what they are doing to safeguard their children.

“People have to understand that the parents are responsible for their children, but many are not taking their responsibility seriously,” Haji Abzal Mohammed, Second Vice-President of the Inter-religious Organisation (IRO), said yesterday.

Mohammed made the statement in the wake of Archbishop Joseph Harris’ announcement that the Catholic Church intends to create a programme to protect children of its schools and parishes from violence.

While the project has not been formulated, Harris said it would be decided after studying the recommendations of the Child Protection Task Force set up by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar. The Task Force is expected to recommend changes in legislation, and other means to improve the protection and care of children. Harris stated donations collected at Christmas throughout the diocese would be directed towards this yet to be developed programme. He said the church was disturbed by the increase in murders of children, saying Catholics must be concerned if the victims and perpetrators were members of the faith, and do what they can to safeguard the children of their communities.

Mohammed yesterday noted the IRO is also deeply concerned about child killings, and crimes involving youths.

To that end, Mohammed told Newsday that, in January, the IRO is expected to have a meeting where one of the main items on the agenda would be family life and violence against children.

“It is a serious situation and we must speak to it because it is happening here and worldwide. Lots of children drop out of school. Most of them live with single mothers who can’t control their children. Added to that, they may have financial hardships so the children turn to illegal means to make money,” he said.

According to Mohammed, “in the pipeline,” the IRO would like to organise one-day seminars to speak on family life, where member churches of the IRO would arrange meetings speaking to these issues in different parts of the country.

Also yesterday, the Association of Female Executives of Trinidad and Tobago (AFETT); the Powerful Ladies of TT (PLOTT); the Network of NGOs for the Advancement of Women; Women’s Institute for Alternative Development (WINAD); Hindu Women’s Organisation; and Advocates for Safe Parenthood: Improving Reproductive Equity (ASPIRE) issued a joint statement on the issue of violence against women and children, especially girls.

“We recognise the protection and care of our children is a multifaceted issue requiring the involvement of all stakeholders. The situation of child abuse is grave, but not impossible as we acknowledge the many entities already working to effect positive change. Unless we address our varied levels of helplessness, ignorance, indifference or apathy, our nation’s children will continue to pay the price,” it said.

Some of the recommendations include building public and community capacity to respond to violence by implementing public awareness and education initiatives on issues such as child and human rights, sexual exploitation, human trafficking, violence against women, and child prostitution.

It suggested that, at a personal level, members of the community become their children’s and their neighbour’s keeper, and that counselling for victims and treatment for perpetrators of violence should be provided in communities. They also encouraged employers to provide affordable and quality child care solutions, and Government to support such initiatives.

In addition, the groups called for Government to “address the incongruity that exists in the law of Trinidad and Tobago which allows religion to sanction the marriage of girls under 14 years and the other which declares that sexual activity with girls under 16 years constitute statutory rape; increase the legal age for marriage by girls to at least 18.”

It also asked that Government get the Children’s Authority operational and establish a National Gender Policy.

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