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Not enough to weep for Jenice

Friday, December 2, 2016

The tragedy of four-year-old Jenice Figaro’s death is that it could have been prevented. In her own home, the one place where she should have been loved, nurtured and protected, little Jenice was brutally battered, suffering blunt force trauma to her head and abdomen.

Ever since the circumstances of the pre-schooler’s death were confirmed earlier this week, following an autopsy performed by pathologist Dr Eslyn McDonald-Burris, there have been public outpourings of rage and grief. Many have pointed to failings in the system and have been critical of the adults around Jenice who reportedly did not recognise signs that she was being abused.

The sad reality is that cases of a child suffering such a tragic, untimely death are not rare in this country. The ones that gain public attention elicit a great deal of tears and finger pointing, but only for a very short while. Soon enough, if this case goes the route of so many others, Jenice will become just another sad statistic and citizens will forget their collective responsibility to look after the welfare of all of T&T’s children.

Adding another tragic twist to this case is the fact that Jenice was killed on November 24, four days after the observance of Universal Children’s Day, an occasion when the welfare of children is at the forefront. If any activities took place locally for this important annual event they were extremely low keyed. That means that a valuable opportunity was lost to advocate, promote and celebrate children’s rights, inspiring the very important dialogues and actions that will build a better world for children.

The day could also have been used to highlight the work of the Children’s Authority in the promotion of children’s rights, if only to remind citizens that these rights are enshrined within the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Declaration and Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and that T&T is a signatory to both.

On paper at least, there exists in this country a comprehensive package of children’s legislation which provide for a robust system in conformity with provisions of the CRC. However, like so many issues relating to rights, safety and welfare, the existence of the right legal and policy frameworks can only work with enforcement and continued advocacy.

This country made important advances in ensuring the rights of children when the Children’s Authority became fully functional last year. There now exists an agency for receiving and investigating reports of mistreatment of children and empowered to remove children from homes where they are in imminent danger.

The infrastructure is in place, so there is no reason why there shouldn’t be greater focus on the problems of child abuse and neglect which often result in death, serious physical or emotional harm, as well as sexual abuse and exploitation which put so many of T&T’s children at imminent risk of serious harm.

Jenice died before she could get help but her tragic case is most likely the tip of a very huge iceberg. More needs to be done to help the many children in this country who don’t get enough food, shelter or basic supervision, are denied necessary medical treatment, adequate education or emotional comfort and suffer physical and sexual abuse.

For these children, the world is an unstable, frightening and dangerous place because only a few such cases are reported and investigated and very few perpetrators are held accountable.

Shedding tears for Jenice is not enough. In her memory, the responsible adults in this nation should commit to doing more to safeguard T&T’s children and uphold their rights.


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