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The killing of nine-year-old Jadel Holder and his brother Jamal Brathwaite, 15, is an indicator that the nation’s children are in crisis and the education system is failing them. So said clinical therapist and trauma specialist Hanif E Benjamin in an interview as he commented on the murder of the brothers. Holder and Brathwaite, both of whom were said to have been involved in gang activity, were killed on Sunday when two gunmen stormed their home at Petunia Avenue, Coconut Drive, Morvant, and shot them.
Education Minister Dr Tim Gopeesingh, when contacted yesterday, declined to comment. He said he did not have a report before him on the children and could not make a statement. Additionally, he said, it was a police matter and he could not comment. Benjamin, president and CEO of the Centre For Human Development Ltd, said Holder and his brother were just an example of many children who had fallen through the cracks in the education system.
“We are facing a child crisis beyond that (the deaths of Holder and Brathwaite). “We are facing a crisis every time a child is killed, every time a child is abused, every time a child is molested. We are dealing with a child crisis and it is permeating every sector of society,” Benjamin said during an interview yesterday. He said Holder’s death was of particular concern because he was of primary school age and should have been at school instead of engaging in illegal activities.
His absence from school and his illicit activity, he said, should have been picked up by the relevant authorities and someone should have taken action or intervened at some point to help him and his brother. Benjamin added: “Every different facet of society has a role and a responsibility. The question for us is, have we been fulfilling our responsibility?
“Why has the school not picked up that this child has not been in school? Where is the community police in all of this? Also the parents? Where is the Government? Where are the religious leaders in all of this?” Holder, Benjamin said, did not wake up “over the weekend in a gang,” and his transition would have happened over a period of time. “Clearly society has failed this child. Over and over we are seeing where children are continuously being failed.
“The children are the most vulnerable amongst us in all our population. That means that extra care and protection needs to be afforded to our children and this has not been the case,” he added. In fact, Benjamin said, there have only been knee-jerk reactions to situations rather than solid action. He said the behaviour being exhibited by young children was not something that happened overnight and an overnight solution could not be expected.
Benjamin said people needed to be educated on trauma and its effects. “They see it as bad behaviour. We see it as someone who has been traumatised and they are reacting to that trauma, so the first thing is that we need to become educated,” Benjamin said. He also said there was need for real discussions and introspection, with the outcome of helping out families.
TTUTA: Yes, system failed
T&T Unified Teachers Association second vice-president Lynsley Doodhai agreed with Benjamin that the system had failed Holder and his brother, as he pointed to the fact that there were secondary-school-aged children involved in gang activity. “To hear that a nine-year-old boy is involved in gang-related activity is mind-boggling,” he said, “and it shows that the issue of gangs has reached into the primary schools and it must be a cause of grave concern.”
Doodhai admitted that there were no systems in place in the education system to catch children before they fell through the cracks. “There is no way to track them (children who are not attending school). The only thing that can help them is if principals are proactive and they follow up on the matter, and in cases like that you would refer the matter to social workers who would visit the home,” he said.
Doodhai said Holder’s age was clearly indicative of the fact that crime was a real cause for concern and “there are no barriers. It has reached the schools and it must be a cause for concern.”
National Parent Teachers Association (NPTA) president Zena Ramatali shared Doodhai’s views. She said the murders of Holder and Brathwaite were of serious concern to the association, since they were both school-aged children. “This is a very sad situation once again... when any child has lost his life, who could have been something in the future, could have been a productive citizen, has lost their innocence, lost their lives,” she lamented.
Ramatali said in Holder’s case his primary school should have been recording his absences, as all the absences of children between the compulsory-schooling ages of five to 12 are recorded, and steps taken to find out why he was not at school. The association, she said, recommended that when children were missing there should be a record and parents and student-support services should be called in.
“After two to three days, if the children are in areas which are deemed high-risk, the police should be able to visit and find this child and find out why this child is not in school,” she added. Ramatali said the association was recommending that truancy officers should be employed at schools to catch at-risk students before they fall through the cracks. “If schools have truancy officers to track children, we would be able to send them back to school.
“These truancy officers will play a critical role in tracking and getting children back in schools and holding parents or guardians accountable for not sending that child to school. That is a serious offence,” Ramatali added.