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‘Stop attacks on children’

By SEAN DOUGLAS Wednesday, January 1 2014

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PRIME Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar yesterday in her New Year’s Message, lamented last year’s spate of child killings including that of Keyana Cumberbatch, six, as she urged everyone in the country to be ever vigilant in order to halt the attacks on children. She called on all politicians to join the effort to end the upsurge.

Persad-Bissessar said personal security must be measured not just by statistics but also on how safe individuals feel and how safe they actually are. “Every family must feel safe. Too many families bear the tragic memory of personal loss, too many of you are traumatised by fear, too many of us feel resigned to insulating ourselves and denying our families the freedom of movement — which is our right — in order to escape criminals and bullies,” she said.

“My Government finds that unacceptable and that is why we are so focused on fighting crime with all the energy and resources that are necessary to combat this evil.” Persad-Bissessar lamented the killings of minors in 2013, which by Newsday’s count consist of seven children under age 12 and 28 youngsters who were aged 17 years old and younger.

Victims included Jacob Munroe, one, beaten to death at Maracas/St Joseph on November 20 (and thrown in a cesspit); Keyana Cumberbatch, six, beaten to death at her Maloney home on November 28 (and found in a barrel); and Jabari Hernandez, three, of Coryal, who was beaten to death. (See below for full list)

Persad-Bissessar remarked, “In particular, the past year jolted us to our core when the reality of how unsafe some of our nation’s children are even with their own families hit us,” She said Cabinet has received a comprehensive report from the Child Protection Task Force, established following Keyana’s tragic death.

“We have accepted its recommendations and will ensure the Task Force gets all that is necessary for The Children’s Authority of Trinidad and Tobago to become fully functional,” she said. “This requires the acceleration of certain legislative matters, which Government will pursue immediately. The Authority plans to be fully operational by August but before that date it would open its first Assessment Centre at the Children’s Hospital at the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex (EWMSC).”

The Ministry of Gender, Youth and Child Development is also building two assessment centres, in south and central trinidad respectively, that will be operational by September 2014.

“Our children are at great risk not only at home and their familial environment but at other places such as foster homes and those under the supervision of caregivers in child welfare institutions,” observed Persad-Bissessar. “I challenge every one of you to put aside partisan interests and rise up against child abuse. I also ask all political leaders to join us to fight violence against our children and crime in general.”

Even as the Government seeks to ensure the nation’s children are safe, she urged all citizens to also reaffirm their responsibility for every child of TT. “Even as the war on crime continues with increased aggression, and you have the opportunity to rethink your views and share them with us, I will make it my priority to make you feel safe again,” she concluded.

Saying she leads a Government that listens and she has made changes in policy over the past four years, she vowed in January to hold the largest public consultation ever in TT’s history.

“The National Conversation will be my Government’s continuing progress report to you and it will be a two-way conversation that gives you, the people, the opportunity to direct us on where and how we must now proceed,” she promised.

“It will be a review of our priorities, an opportunity for you to see how we have aligned our delivery to your needs, and for you to tell us what you want us to reconsider. “You must tell us where to get more aggressive and where to expand what we are doing. We work for you. And together we must build this country!”.

She said the National Conversation will give citizens an unprecedented chance to help take the nation forward by their own thinking. Perad-Bissessar said while there is much to celebrate so far, there is still a great deal to do. She promised hospital development at Port-of-Spain, San Fernando, Point Fortin, Penal, Sangre Grande and Couva. Regarding inflation, she vowed to ensure fair food-prices, even as she recalled her steps to help the needy such as the recent 20 percent discount on flour, rice and oil. Regarding “jobs and young people”, she promised to deliver more education through new university campuses in central and South Trinidad, plus Tobago.

She promised better pay and training for On the Job Training (OJT) trainees. “My Government has also put an unprecedented level of energy in driving forward our economic diversification programme, and here as well the nation will see an expansion in the number, quality and diversity of employment opportunities.”

“Let us continue to live together in harmony, dream dreams together and build a nation of equals where each of us would freely enjoy the bounty of our land, free from fear, and focused on unity and a commitment to community.”

Persad-Bissessar also issued a separate statement as Caricom chairman in 2013, spelling out the region’s grave challenges the past year, including conflicts over migration and nationality, the death of a world icon (Nelson Mandela),and storm devastation to three member States.

Her tenure oversaw a row between Jamaica and Barbados over Shanique Myrie and between Haiti and the Dominican Republic (DR) over the retraction of citizenship of persons of Haitian descent born in the DR. She led Caricom leaders to Mandela’s funeral, and empathised when St Lucia, St Vincent and to a lesser extent Dominica were last week hit by storm devastation.

The past year had seen Caricom’s 40th anniversary, and the 34th Heads of Government Conference held at Chaguaramas. Saying the economic situation facing Caricom Member States was uppermost in their collective thoughts and actions, she said a major outcome this year has been the creation of a Commission on the Economy to advise on solutions leading to growth and development.

“In recognition of the fact that economic growth and development cannot be accomplished without the movement of people and goods, we have intensified our efforts to provide reliable transportation across the region,” she said. This will be aided by the work of the Transportation Commission set up at Caricom’s July meeting. Yet migration within Caricom created a row between Jamaica and Barbados. “Following the decision of the Caribbean Court of Justice in the case of Shanique Myrie and the State of Barbados and the State of Jamaica which was delivered in October, the Legal Affairs Committee (LAC) has been tasked with considering the wide-ranging implications for decision-making in the Community and for hassle-free travel. We await the LAC’s recommendations.”

Also on the issue of migration/nationality, Caricom met in special session and acted firmly against the DR when its constitutional court retroactively threatened to strip the citizenship of thousands of DR citizens of Haitian descent who would be left stateless and with no recourse to appeal.

“We have accorded this matter the highest priority and have decided on some key steps including the suspension of the Community’s consideration of the request by the Dominican Republic for membership of Caricom,” said Persad-Bissessar. “Since our meeting, the Presidents of the Dominican Republic and Haiti have agreed to establish a Committee to seek a joint solution to the problems facing the two governments, in which Caricom will participate. The Secretary-General will be following up with the President and Foreign Minister of Haiti in this regard.”

She thanked Caricom leaders whom she had led to Mandela’s memorial service.

“As I pass the baton of Chairmanship to my colleague, Dr the Honourable Ralph Gonsalves, Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, I wish to take this opportunity, on behalf of the Community, to offer sympathy at the loss of life, injury and damage to property and infrastructure which occurred in his country, as well as in Saint Lucia and Dominica, as a result of severe weather impacting the Eastern Caribbean last week,” she said. “The Community stands ready to offer all possible assistance as rebuilding commences.”

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