Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister Ayanna Webster-Roy gave some startling statistics about child abuse during her contribution to the 2020/21 Budget in Parliament on Monday.
Indeed, Minister Webster-Roy lamented that despite the expansion of the specialised Child Protection Unit of the T&T Police Service and development of other initiatives, children were still very vulnerable to various forms of abuse.
Quoting statistics from a 2019 report of the Children’s Authority, the minister noted that some 4,000 cases of child abuse were reported. Breaking down the figures further, she said 54.4% of the cases were female while 43.3% were male. Even more stunning was the revelation that the most prevalent form was sexual abuse, at 22.6 per cent of the cases, with neglect (20.6 per cent) and physical abuse (14.3 per cent) making up the top three forms of the violation of children.
Supporting the minister’s claims too were former Children’s Authority head Hanif Benjamin, who told this media house the cases he saw during his term deeply troubled him. Noting some of the acts were perpetrated by children’s biological mothers, Mr Benjamin said he believed many of the cases involved individuals who were sick in their minds. Mr Benjamin saw a correlation between the abuse of children and domestic violence, while some psychologists linked such cases to suicides among children.
Mr Benjamin and the other stakeholders are right, child abuse continues to be a deep-seethed problem that continues to affect the moral fabric of our society. Like domestic abuse, it not only survives but strives mostly because it is seen as a taboo topic that most people prefer not to touch.
The establishment of specialised entities like the Child Protection Unit, it was hoped, would empower some of the victims and witnesses to such acts to come out and expose those behind them. Truth be told, while the unit has managed to expose more cases, many more continue to go undetected.
But if Minister Webster-Roy, who is responsible for Gender and Child Affairs, is serious about dealing with the matter, she will realise other issues are contributing to the problem.
One of them is the lack of synergy between some of the institutions where children socialise, like the education system—often a comfort zone for them and most likely where they exhibit signs and expose those behind attacks -, and the state agencies responsible for dealing with such cases.
Cohesion between these units is even more critical as most children are being educated at home due to COVID-19 restrictions and more vulnerable to increased attacks by perpetrators.
As we speak, the removal of a child from the home by the state is often the only prescribed treatment for abuse cases. But is this the most wholesome approach for victims? And what becomes of the perpetrator of the crime save jail time for the more grievous offences?
Until measures deal with both the physical and psychological effects of such cases on both the children and adults, it is unlikely the average yearly caseload will diminish.