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PM on Facebook beating of girl, 12: Abuse must be stopped

Thursday, April 24, 2014
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, fifth from right, back row, and Minister of Gender Affairs Marlene Coudray, third from right, back row, pose for a photo with their elderly guests during the Ministry of the People and Social Development’s Division of Ageing’s "Annual Salutation to Centenarians" at the Hyatt Regency, Port-of-Spain, yesterday. Some 25 centenarians were honoured at the event. PHOTO: MARYANN AUGUSTE

Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar says the Government will examine the possibility of banning corporal punishment in the home as practised in developed countries like the United States. She made the comment in response to the public’s outrage over a Facebook video showing the beating of a 12-year-old girl by her mother, Helen Bartlett, who yesterday defended her decision to both punish the child and post it on the social networking site. 



The video, which has since gone viral, had sparked calls from members of the public that the mother be arrested and charged for child abuse. Persad-Bissessar raised the prospect of banning corporal punishment in homes in a response to a question from the media yesterday, after delivering the feature address at a ceremony honouring 25 centenarians, hosted by the Ministry of the People and Social Development at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, Port-of-Spain, yesterday.


Noting that the law currently does not deal with domestic issues properly, Persad-Bissessar said: “I do not believe legislation has any room in it now for what takes place in the home but it is something that we will have to look into. “The Ministry of Gender, Youth and Child Development will look further into the issue to determine what can be done.”



Admitting this could pose some challenges, however, Persad-Bissessar added: “You do have legislation permitting parents from assaulting their children and this is something we would want to look into.” The PM said the State must also take a more active role in protecting children from abusers in the home. On what could be the specific legislature regarding corporal punishment in the home, the PM said:


“In my last incarnation in government I was vociferously upbraided because I had brought legislation to Parliament to ban corporal punishment in schools. It was not my doing but that of a Joint Select Committee of Parliament at the time.”


In an interview yesterday, Bartlett admitted she beat the child for posting inappropriate photos of herself on Facebook but said the child was a trouble child and said she had sought counselling for her before. On the beating of the child, Persad-Bissessar said: “I would not do that if it were me. I do not know what the circumstances were. I do not know if any circumstances warranted assaulting a child in that manner.” 


Asked whether the mother should face criminal charges, Persad-Bissessar said she could not make any comments as she was unaware of all the facts.



Stopped school punishment 

In February of 2001, then education minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar pioneered legislation which led to a ban on corporal punishment in schools. The reasons she offered were that corporal punishment was an ineffective means for ensuring that children learned positive values, caused hopelessness and depression in children, made children prone to anti-social behaviour, including violence, and it harmed parent-child relations.


The move, however, was met with displeasure by many, including then national security minister Jack Warner. Warner, speaking at a function in 2012, said he regretted that corporal punishment was abolished from the school system as there was now a culture of indiscipline in the nation. "I rue the day that they stop beating in schools... I rue the day that you go to school and there's no accountability whether there is work or not," Warner had said. 



Mom could be charged—Sampson-Browne 

Head of the Victims and Witness Support Unit of the Police Service, Margaret Sampson-Browne, said yesterday the mother could be charged under the Children Act as she expressed her disappointment with the manner in which the woman went about punishing the child. She said the police could also investigate the matter without it being reported if there were reasonable grounds.


Saying there were other avenues to deal with children in circumstances of untoward behaviour, Sampson-Browne said there could have been serious repercussions if the belt had struck the child in her eye during the beating. Sampson-Browne also criticised the other people who were present in the home and looked on as the blows were being dealt.


“Nobody stopped that mother and said, ‘look enough is enough.’ You are beating her with the belt and then you are accompanying it with obscene language and that 12-year-old cowering down in a corner trying to defend. “She did not even have an opportunity to say I’m sorry and that is parenting? For me that is abuse,” Sampson-Browne said. Saying she was against corporal punishment, the former police officer called on parents to show more love to their children.


That, she added, would not only build self-esteem but foster trust in the home.



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