On matters of children’s rights and protection, this country has a less than stellar reputation.
Etched in the national psyche should be the names Akil Chambers, Tecia Henry, Hope Arismendez, Sean Luke, Amy Annamunthodo and other young murder victims, all of them less than ten years old when they were killed.
So brutal were the circumstances of their deaths, which involved physical, sexual abuse and even torture, that their cases dominated headlines for days, weeks and even months.
The cries for justice for these innocent victims have been muted in recent times but violence and dysfunction—amplified in these times of COVID-19—are an ever-present danger for the young and vulnerable.
For every child who has been murdered in T&T, there are many more suffering abuse and the worst kinds of neglect. Available data suggest the cases that come to national attention are just the tip of the iceberg.
Consider, for example, that since the establishment of the Children’s Authority in 2015, investigations have been done into more than 20,000 cases of child abuse. The work of this agency and the Child Protection Unit of the T&T Police Service (TTPS) have made a difference but there is much more work to be done that may well be beyond their remit.
In addition to the problems that have been exacerbated by COVID, with restrictions now forcing some children to be in close quarters for extended time with their abusers, the authorities also have to do a better job of protecting and caring for migrant children.
Existing child protection measures and structures are not sufficient to prevent and respond to increasing incidents of violence, exploitation and abuse. Priority should be on supplementing the work that is already being done with more programmes and policies.
This country is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, so policymakers should always keep uppermost in their minds that failure to protect children not only undermines national development but brings about negative repercussions that can last for decades.
Therefore, adequate resources for this important work should be allocated in the 2020/21 Budget to be presented on October 5. Meaningful support should also be provided to the Caribbean Committee Against Sex Crimes (CCASC), which has just joined forces with OffenderWatch to implement sex offender registries across the 15 Caricom nations.
This will be a big step in providing another layer of protection to children who easily fall victim to sexual predators. Developing the capacity to track sex offenders throughout the Caribbean and eventually globally is an important preventative measure to support legislative and other steps already taken locally.
On September 13, 2019, T&T became the smallest country in the world to pass a public sex offender’s registry law. It is time to improve on that effort.
If the right steps are taken now, by the time Universal Children’s Day comes around on November 20, the population can celebrate making T&T a much safer place for our children.