T&T ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on December 5, 1991, two years after it was adopted by the UN General Assembly.
That means, at least in theory, that the Government is committed to ensuring that all children in this country are allowed to grow, learn, play and develop in a healthy and safe environment. That right extends to all children living within T&T’s borders, including the thousands of migrant children who have sought refuge here from economic and political turmoil in Venezuela.
Unfortunately, for many of the migrant children in this country, apart from the trauma of being displaced and enduring the short and treacherous voyage across the Gulf of Paria to get to these shores, there are daily difficulties and uncertainties.
Reports in recent weeks of migrant children being used by adults to beg and sell on the streets warrant an urgent response from the authorities. The sight of these minors, including infants, out on busy thoroughfares in the sun and rain, exposed to dust and vehicle exhaust, is disturbing.
Earlier this week, Guardian Media reported on six migrant families who have been begging and selling drinks and snacks on the Munroe Road Flyover in Chaguanas.
They claimed to have no choice but to keep their children with them because they can’t go to school.
It is estimated that more than 3,000 migrant children between the ages of five to 17 have been denied access to formal education — a sore point that the Dr Keith Rowley administration has avoided addressing for years.
While the Children’s Authority has promised to take action in the interest of migrant children who are being exploited, there is no indication that the bigger problem of their exclusion from the public education system will be tackled anytime soon.
The reality is that they will be at risk of exploitation or worse, as long as they continue to miss out on education.
Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly has had little to say about this worrying situation but the prevailing opinion is there are concerns that there are not enough spaces to integrate migrant children into the public school system.
However, solutions must be found for these children who have a right to education but who have missed years of school since arriving in T&T and suffered a disruption to their normal development that severely compromises their futures.
Migrant children are entitled to the same help and protection and have the same rights as children born in T&T. The fact that they are deprived adds to their struggles in adjusting to the cultural and social environment here.
They are likely to face long-term physical and psychological difficulties because of the ways they and their families are made to feel marginalised and helpless while living here.
Life is distressing enough for these displaced children. The opportunity to attend school would be a way to keep them off the streets and give them access to a stable environment which facilitates their mental and emotional development.
Ignoring this problem won’t make it go away. It will just continue to fester, adding to the many social problems already affecting this country.
However, findings solutions will require concerted efforts from Government and local NGOs in collaboration with international organisations. That should be made a priority.