Disturbing and alarming statistics were released by the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service on Thursday that 154 minors have run away from their homes in first seven months of 2022, with the majority of them being young girls.
While the nation has indeed grown wearily accustomed to seeing the almost daily notifications from the TTPS about the disappearance of a youngster, the magnitude of the problem was not fully explained until Thursday.
According to Assistant Supt Darryl Ramdass, who is attached to the Anti-Kidnapping Unit, many juveniles are reported missing after fleeing their homes because of family issues, as well as inappropriate sexual relations/acts between adults and children, fractured households, emotional pressure to perform academically and a lack of positive family social interaction.
The senior officer even said some of the cases are so severe that they take a profound toll on seasoned police investigators.
“It is disheartening at times to hear some of the stories...” Ramdass told the media during the TTPS’ media briefing.
But this revelation again highlights some of the worrying situations one of the nation’s most vulnerable groups has to confront.
Stories about abuse, both physical and sexual, have been well ventilated in recent months, especially in light of similar cases highlighted at state-run children’s homes across the country.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, tales about the emotional distress affecting youngsters, as well as the socioeconomic impact of the pandemic on children were also widespread.
Now, these issues and a host of others have been so dreadful that many minors are fleeing their parents/guardians’ homes - suggesting a deafening cry for help.
Yet, the social interventions continue to be too little, too late, often coming when a problem has not only reared its head but left a trail of trauma on a child.
This is why the old adage of ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ is relevant now more than ever before.
Teachers, neighbours, relatives and religious leaders are regarded as those who are supposed to keep an eye out for children, taking note of any changes in their behaviour, physical and mental state. Reporting these changes to law enforcement or State authorities for investigation is of paramount importance.
However, there must be more rigorous and robust inquiries when it comes to complaints by children or about their well-being in the home environment.
Those state workers tasked with keeping children safe must take care to conduct more follow-up visits and probes and hasten to remove children out of homes - away from potential danger - until the situation is resolved and their safety assured.
If we are to learn anything from the recent scandals surrounding the Robert Sabga Report and the Judith Jones Report into incidents at state-run children’s homes, it is that we cannot ignore or turn a blind eye to the complaints and plight of children.
We owe it to them and to the future of the country to ensure they have a solid foundation to start their life’s journey filled with love, peace and stability.