There is no law in T&T protecting children from corporal punishment at home or at school. Though former president George Maxwell Richards initially assented to the Children Act—which prohibits the beating of children—on August 6, 2012, it has never been proclaimed. The Office of the President, in a brief telephone interview Friday, charted the sequence of events that took the assented act out of the President’s Office before it could be proclaimed into law.
“After it was assented to, it went back to Parliament and I understand that the Child Protection Task Force had been set up and recommended that proclamation wait until the Children’s Authority was fully functioning,” the Office of the President said. “That is as far as it has reached,” the office said. “The act has not come back to the President’s office for proclamation.” That task force was set up by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar in December 2013.
Former attorney general Ramesh Lawarence Maharaj, in a brief telephone interview on Friday, said the responsibility for the failure to proclaim lay with the Cabinet, but added that no one can be arrested or charged for administering corporal punishment as that law does not yet exist. “The Cabinet has to advise the President when he could proclaim it into law. It is a failure of the Executive Arm of the Government that is preventing this act from coming into force,” Maharaj said.
The issue of corporal punishment once again gripped the public’s attention after a recording of a mother, Helen Bartlett, repeatedly hitting her 12-year-old daughter with a belt, was posted online and went viral. While the debate on corporal punishment continues to rage on the social networking sites and within private homes, there is no law to fine, charge or arrest someone for beating a child. As the current legality stands, though, corporal punishment is lawful in the home.
Children’s Authority can’t be reached
Several attempts to contact the Children’s Authority on Friday proved futile, but in a press release dated November 22, 2013, the authority confirmed that “the Children Act 2012 has been assented to and is yet to be proclaimed to make it effective law. “The Children’s Authority Act will be proclaimed once the basic administrative, physical and technical infrastructure is in place—such as places of safety, assessment centres, and a critical mass of staff to operationalise the authority.
“We are in the final stages of the preparatory work required for start-up and have been engaging key stakeholders to provide a more effective response to children at risk. “As we build capacity within the authority, a key initiative will involve delivering support to families so that they can provide a protective and nurturing environment for their children” the release stated.
Flogging still legal in T&T —UN Global Report
According to the United Nations 2013 Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children, T&T is listed among the 24 states where the laws do not fully prohibit corporal punishment in any setting. T&T is listed among nations like Pakistan, Palestine, India, Somalia, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.
T&T is also listed among the 39 states, where corporal punishment—caning, flogging, whipping—is still a lawful criminal sentence. Again, T&T is listed among nations like Iran, Saudi Arabia, Brunei Darussalam, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Tonga.
The report further states that between 2005 and 2011, UNICEF collected statistics on violent punishment of children in 49 low-and-middle-income countries. The results show that in nearly all countries over 60 per cent of two- to 14-year-olds had experienced violent punishment—physical punishment and/or psychological aggression—in the home in the month prior to the survey. T&T once again features among the 15 countries in which 70-79 per cent of the young population was subjected to violence.
St Rose-Greaves: I’m not speaking about that right now...contact Children’s Authority
The Sunday Guardian contacted former minister of Gender, Youth and Child Development Verna St Rose-Greaves regarding the unenforced act, but was told that she “was not speaking about that right now.” St Rose Greaves then directed the Sunday Guardian to contact the Children’s Authority. The Sunday Guardian was then told that the “person to speak with” was not at the office and was advised to call back after an hour. However, there was no response to five subsequent phone calls.
The Children Act
The UN report noted that while the Children Act (2012) was assented to in August 2012 it is still awaiting proclamation. It noted that though Article 4 punishes cruelty to children, there is a caveat in subsection 6: “Nothing in this section shall be construed as affecting the right of any parent, teacher or other person having the lawful control or charge of a child to administer reasonable punishment to such child.”
Subsection 7 implicitly confirms that this allows parents to use corporal punishment: “Reasonable punishment referred to in subsection (6) in relation to any person other than a parent or guardian, shall not include corporal punishment.” Corporal punishment of children is still lawful in public and private schools under section 22 of the Children Act. Again, while it is prohibited in the Children (Amendment) Act 2000, the act has not yet come into force.
Meanwhile, the standing Education Act (1996) makes no reference to corporal punishment but is contradicted by the the National School Code of Conduct (2009) of the Ministry of Education which states that corporal punishment should not be used.
According to the Children’s Act, Section 3 (1) “If any person over the age of sixteen years, who has the custody, charge, or care of any child or young person, willfully assaults, ill-treats, neglects, abandons, or exposes the child or young person, or causes or procures the child or young person to be assaulted, ill-treated, neglected, abandoned or exposed, in a manner likely to cause the child or young person unnecessary suffering or injury to his health (including injury to or loss of sight, or hearing, or limb, or organ of the body, and any mental derangement) that person is liable of conviction on indictment, to a fine of four thousand dollars, or alternatively, or in default of payment of such fine, or in addition thereto, to imprisonment for two years; and on summary conviction, to a fine of one thousand dollars, or alternatively, or in addition thereto, to imprisonment for six months.”