STOP THE ABUSE
BY MIRANDA LA ROSE Thursday, January 16 2014
Children are often the victims of sexual offences and robberies.
In fact, they accounted for 82 percent of the crimes, at 42 percent each, committed against children between 2007 and 2012, according to Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar.
It was one of the “deeply disturbing statistics” disclosed in a preliminary report submitted to her by the Child Protection Task Force at the end of last year.
Noting children make up 25 percent of the population, Persad-Bissessar yesterday, said the finding means that “as we ask children to break the silence on the horror of abuse, we, as adults, must also be willing to speak up and act quickly in their defence.”
Persad-Bissessar, speaking yesterday at the launch of the “Break the Silence, End Child Abuse” national campaign at Hyatt Regency, Port-of-Spain, said she is pursuing all necessary measures to ensure President Anthony Carmona proclaims the Children’s Authority Act and the Children’s Community Residences, Foster Homes and Nurseries Act, 2000 so the Children’s Authority will operate at full capacity as soon as possible.
The two acts along with the Children’s Act, 2012 will strengthen treatment of offences against children, and the manner in which the court interacts with them.
Following the death of six-year-old Keyanna Cumberbatch, who was allegedly raped and murdered by her stepfather, Persad-Bissessar said her response was to do something significant to save children hence the appointment of a Child Protection Task Force.
The Task Force headed by children’s advocate, Diana Mahabir-Wyatt, submitted its first report last December.
Noting the high percentage of crimes committed against children, Persad-Bissessar appealed to the Opposition People’s National Movement and Independent Senators to support the Bail (Amendment) Bill, due to be debated in the Senate next Tuesday. Its passage, she said to a loud round of applause, was needed to further protect children from sexual abuse and other crimes, or protect children from giving criminals the chance to repeat crimes against them.
Among the main recommendations of the Task Force is for Government to take immediate action on all legislative and administrative issues that are required to make the Children’s Authority fully functional.
“One of the key factors that will make this possible,” Persad-Bissessar said, “will be finally filling vacancies which exist.”
The Task Force report found that of 97 positions in the Child Division’s establishment only 19 are filled. To this end, Persad-Bissessar said she has instructed Minister of Gender, Youth and Child Development, Clifton De Coteau to fill them as soon as possible.
De Coteau told reporters the vacancies were due to professionals not interested in the positions because of low pay. However, he said the issue was being addressed.
Persad-Bissessar said she has also instructed the inter-ministerial team to ensure the Children’s Authority is given the financial resources needed for full functioning. The Children’s Authority will, among its functions, receive complaints or expressions of concern from children and adults about the treatment of any child; investigate and treat with the complaints of staff, children and parents or guardians, and reports of mistreatment of children in their homes; make applications to the court to further the welfare of children; provide services for children whether they live with their families or not; establish and maintain places of safety, support and assessment centres, reception centres and hostels; and provide assistance to the Counter-Trafficking Unit in respect of child victims.
Meanwhile, Persad-Bissessar said work will begin this month on the authority’s first assessment centre at the Children’s Hospital at the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex, Mt Hope. It is due to be fully operational by June.
The Ministry of Gender, Youth and Child Development, she said, was also constructing two assessment centres in Manahambre Road, Ste Madeleine and in Chaguanas to be fully operational by September.
These centres will be equipped with personnel who can receive, assess and activate emergency processes wherever a child is believed to be facing abuse of any kind.
In addition, she said the ministry is constructing and refurbishing 20 facilities across the country for emergency and foster care of children.
The new contruction projects are the two assessment centres; female safe home in Reform Village, Princes Town; male safe home in Ste Madeleine; female safe home in Guayaguayare; male transition home; institute of healing in Chatham; remand home for young female offenders in Orange Grove; multipurpose youth facility in Ste Madeleine; and St Dominic’s Living Quarters for Girls.
The refurbishment projects are Chatham Youth Development and Apprenticeship Centre, Praesto Presto Youth Development and Apprenticeship Centre, Laventille Youth Training Facility, Malick Youth Training Facility, California Youth Training Facility, Los Bajos Youth Training Facility, St Michael’s School for Boys, St Mary’s Children’s Home, St Dominic’s Children’s Home, Old Bethlehem House, and Inter-Disciplinary Child Development Centre, Couva. Calling for more men’s involvement to end child sexual abuse, she said as men are the main perpetrators, if they are not fully involved the efforts will fail.
The Break the Silence, End Child Abuse campaign, which is symbolised by a blue teddy bear, came out of two studies conducted by the Institute of Gender Development Studies at the University of the West Indies (UWI) and funded by the United Nations Children Fund between 2006 and 2012. According to sociologist and UWI Deputy Principal Rhoda Reddock, among the studies’ findings was that of 165 cases of rape cases against children over a six-month period, 85 percent was committed on girls with men being the perpetrators.
It was first launched by the UWI St Augustine Campus in 2008 and subsequently replicated across the Caribbean by UNICEF.