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11-year-old girl sent to women’s prison
Senior Counsel Dana Seetahal is calling on the newly formed Child Protection Task Force to investigate and consider the process by which children are transferred between the country’s official orphanages and industrial schools, through acts of indiscipline.
On Thursday, Seetahal represented an 11-year-old girl, who lived at the St Dominic’s Children Home, in Belmont and was transferred to the Women’s Prison at Golden Grove, Arouca, for breaching the rules of the Belmont-based orphanage. In a telephone interview yesterday, Seetahal said that the transfer was ordered by a magistrate during a court appearance on December 5.
She explained that under the Children’s Act, which governs the process, children at the country’s two official orphanages-St Dominic’s and Tacarigua-based St Mary’s Children’s Home, who are accused of indiscipline are sent to the country’s only two industrial schools St Jude’s School for Girls, also in Belmont or to St Michael’s Home for Boys in Deigo Martin.
The T&T Guardian understands that some magistrates have begun sending children to the adult prison because of space constraints at both industrial schools, with prison authorities being forced to establish make-shift facilities, so that the children would be isolated from the rest of the prison population. “I have been told that right now there are at least seven such children that are under 16, who are in the prison,” Seetahal said.
Through a habeas corpus writ, filed by Seetahal, on Thursday, the child was taken out of the prison and brought before Justice Joan Charles in the Port-of-Spain High Court for a hearing. While addressing the court, Seetahal noted that the Children’s Act does not specify which rule at orphanages was an “offence” which warranted transfer to an industrial school and the act does not provide that children to be taken to adult prison instead of to industrial schools.
After hearing submissions from Seetahal and Deputy Solicitor General Neil Byam, Charles ordered that the child be placed in the custody of a family friend, who the court deemed “fit” to take care of her before her next hearing before the magistrate in January. Attorneys Ria Reyes and Cassandra Seetahal, also appeared for the child. In an interview yesterday, Seetahal described the current situation as untenable while stating that all four official institutions had been privately established.
“No Government has ever built an orphanage or industrial school for children,” Seetahal. She questioned why 17-member Task Force, did not include magistrates and legal professionals who deal mostly with juvenile cases, as they would be best suited to identify the problems with the existing children’s legislation and the procedures related to it.
The task force, which is headed by Diana Mahabir-Wyatt, was established on December 1, by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar in response to several murders of children including that six-year-old Keyana Cumberbatch.
It has been mandated to complete and review all provisions, regulations, legislation, and public processes to protect children, make recommendations on specific risk areas which will require state interventions and make suggestions on early-warning systems that can be structured to detect children who live in risk situations.
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