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‘Worse than we anticipated’
Director of the Children’s Authority Sharifa Ali-Abdullah yesterday revealed that 5,500 sexual abuse, neglect, physical abuse and lack of care and guardianship cases were reported to the authority in the last 12 months.
From May 18, last year to February 17, the authority had initially reported 4,158 cases.
And between February 18 to yesterday there were an additional 1,342 cases of abuse reported.
Of the 1,000 cases of sexual abuse that were reported, 142 children were in sexual relationships with adult men which was being condoned and accepted by society, with 61 of them becoming pregnant or have had a child.
It was also disclosed that 500 of the 5,500 reports were emergency cases, with 120 children removed from the home and put into foster care, children’s homes and other places of safety.
The authority is also treating with 180 children whose parents were victims of crime, or accused of committed criminal offences, while just under 200 child offenders were referred to them — two of which were offences for robbery and possession of marijuana.
These was some of the figures and details Ali-Abdullah outlined at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, Port-of Spain, during a Child Protection workshop with media practitioners yesterday. Among those who also spoke were president of the Association of Caribbean Media Workers Wesley Gibbings, media consultant Sunity Maharaj and the authority’s chairman Stephanie Daly, SC.
Ali-Abdullah said in the first month of the authority’s operation there were 500 cases of abuse reported.
Since then, she said “we have not stopped counting.” On a monthly basis, the authority receives on average 400 to 500 reports.
In two weeks, Ali-Abdullah said the authority would celebrate it first anniversary with a “heavy heart,” as the number of cases coming to them were shocking and growing.
She admitted that the number of child abuse and neglect cases were worse than the authority had “anticipated.”
What was also disturbing, Ali-Abdullah said was that “50” of the 61 children “are pregnant at this time.”
So far, the authority has approved licences for two of 50 children’s community residences, which they have to monitor.
Ali-Abdullah said that area was challenging since “more than 35 of these homes do not receive any financial assistance from the State. It is something we have been advocating for since these are private-run entities and we are expecting them to raise security and quality standards.”
She said many of the designated homes have been refusing acceptance of children over the age of 12 “particularly pregnant girls with challenging behaviours, special needs children and HIV positive children.”
Agreeing that the homes need financial resources to run its affairs, Ali-Abdullah pleaded with them to accept the children, especially those who have no where to turn to.
While the authority’s role is to remove children from imminent danger, Ali-Abdullah said once a report comes to them, they are mandated to act and remove the child to a place of safety.
In some cases, Ali-Abdullah said they are stuck with some cases where placement was difficult. She also explained that neglect was fast becoming an issue for the authority.
“We are finding a lot of children who are left unsupervised. We have gotten reports of babies in a front porches, children living in pavilions. There was a child who was living in a abandoned house and had fleas. She was sleeping there after being sexually abused and no place to go.”
Ali-Abdullah also recognised that sexual abuse was fast becoming a growing issue in Tobago.
She said what they have been observing was that a child may come in for neglect “but when we look further, it may be sexual abuse.”