THE LAUNCH OF THE BREAK THE SILENCE CAMPAIGN
(…ENDING CHILD SEX ABUSE)
When the news breaks of a child who has suffered unimaginable abuse, immediately a fury is ignited, nationally.
As a people, we become enraged and we call for immediate justice.
As a people, it is our duty to protect the children of our nation. As human beings, it is our instinct.
But today, we are focusing on breaking the silence that will not only uncover the horror that some children must endure, but could also prevent it, by identifying risks and acting quickly.
Therefore, to break the silence, one thing that we must do is to surrender the urge that fuels a national fury after news of child abuse comes out, and channel it to passionate commitment to speak out the moment we have good reason to believe a child is at risk.
It is also important that we do not leave breaking the silence on child abuse to children alone. While we must encourage our children to be brave and to feel sure that when they reach their hands out for help, the adult who responds will help indeed help them…the bigger responsibility falls on us.
Any child facing any risk anywhere in our country and in our region makes us responsible for helping them find safety.
THE CHILD PROTECTION TASK FORCE
On the part of Government, it is all too easy to say that we cannot be in every home and every community at all times; that parents and adults must also share responsibility for the safety of children.
Today, I am not here to do that.
My purpose here today is to engage a very meaningful conversation with you, the stakeholders, and with the people of our nation who are listening.
And that conversation, on the one hand, is aimed at describing how my Government has worked to provide every policy and institutional measure to empower everyone to be our children’s protectors…
And also, to ask you to continue telling us how, together, we can do more to ensure that our children can live their lives as children and experience the joys of childhood, without risk.
When I was given the full details of the tragic death of Keyanna Cumberbatch, I cannot fully describe my reaction – it was utter agony, sympathy and anger all mixed together.
As a mother, I simply could not conceive of the torment the family was suddenly plunged into.
But my role as Prime Minister required that my response was based on determined action to do something significant that will save our children.
I appointed a Child Protection Task Force, headed by the renowned Advocate, Diana Mahabir-Wyatt, and including some of the most dedicated men and women in our country.
My mandate to the Task Force was to comprehensively review the framework that is currently in place to protect children, and propose measures which we must immediately pursue to fortify those measures.
As I discuss the details of the first report of the Task Force, I must personally thank all members who dedicated their time and their passions to delivering these findings. Thank you!
Chief among the findings was the undertaking that all legislative and administrative issues required to make the Children’s Authority of Trinidad & Tobago fully functional be immediately taken.
One of the key factors that will make this possible will be finally filling vacancies which exist. The Task Force report found that of 97 vacancies which currently exist, only 19 of those positions are filled.
I have instructed the Minister of Gender, Youth and Child Development, the Honourable Clifton De Coteau to actively pursue a resolution to this problem and in his most recent update, I understand that the process is well advanced.
I further instructed the Inter-Ministerial team to ensure that the Children’s Authority was availed the financial resources that will propel their full functioning.
You will be pleased to know that work will also begin this month on the Authority’s first Assessment Centre at the Children’s Hospital at the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex. The centre will be fully operational by June of this year.
The Ministry of Gender, Youth and Child Development is also be constructing two Assessment Centres, one in South Trinidad (Manahambre Road, St. Madeline) and one in Chaguanas. The centres will be fully operational by September of this year.
These centres will provide an expanded presence of the critical personnel who can receive, assess and activate emergency processes wherever a child is believed to be facing abuse of any kind.
While this is happening, the Ministry is also moving to ensure that appropriate facilities are provided for the emergency and foster care of children.
In December 2013, two meetings were held with the Ministry and NIPDEC regarding project management and construction management services contracts for 10 new construction projects (named below) and 10 refurbishment projects (named below) across the country.
New Construction Projects:
1. Regional Assessment Centre, Manahambre Road, Ste Madeline
2. Assessment centre, Chaguanas
3. Female Safe Home Off Reform Road, Reform Village Princes Town
4. Male Safe Home, Tyler Lane, Ste Madeline
5. Female Safe Home, Guayaguayare
6. Male Transition Home
7. Institute of Healing, Chatham
8. Remand Home for young Female Offenders, Orange Grove
9. Multipurpose Youth Facility, Osbourne Lane, Ste Madeline
10. St Dominic’s Living Quarters for Girls
1. Chatham Youth development and Apprenticeship Centre
2. Persto Praesto Youth Development and Apprenticeship Centre
3. Laventille Youth Training Facility
4. Malick Youth Training Facility
5. California Youth Training Facility
6. Los Bajos Youth Training Facility
7. St Michael’s School for Boys
8. St Mary’s Children’s Home
9. St Dominic’s Children’s Home- Old Bethlehem House
10. Inter-Disciplinary Child Development Centre –Couva
In addition, for the Authority to operate at its full capacity and mandate, there are two key pieces of legislation from this package, which must be proclaimed:
• The Children’s Authority Act, and
• The Children’s Community Residences, Foster Homes and Nurseries Act, 2000
A third Act – the 2012 Children Act would strengthen treatment of offences against children, and the manner in which the Court interacts with children.
In effect the three Acts are inter-related and mutually dependent and I have given the commitment to pursue all measures necessary for their full proclamation by His Excellency the President.
With the recommendations made by the Task Force, and with the very clear mandates I have issued to all line Ministers involved, a fully operational Children’s Authority will achieve its full capacity by:
• Receiving complaints or expressions of concern from children and adults about the treatment of any child;
• Investigating and treating with the complaints of staff, children and parents/guardians, as well as reports of mistreatment of children in their homes;
• Making applications to the Court to further the welfare of children;
• Providing services for children whether they live with their families or not;
• Establishing and maintaining places of safety, support and assessment centres, reception centres and hostels;
• Establishing and operating a foster care system;
• Assuming conduct of the Adoption process;
• Establishing standards for and monitoring community residences, foster care homes and nurseries;
• Issuing and revoking licences for community residences and nurseries;
• Supporting the youth justice system; and
• Providing assistance to the Counter-Trafficking Unit in respect of child victims.
So even as we are ensuring that the necessary measures are put in place quickly, we are pursuing the infrastructure and accommodation side simultaneously.
All that can be done, is being done, I assure you!
On another very important front, we are also working to restore the high premium placed on strong family life and values.
You may know that this year, we commemorate the 20th anniversary of the International Year of the Family with a national year-long programme entitled: “Strengthening Our Families”.
As Patron for the commemoration of the Anniversary, which is being led by the Ministry of Gender, Youth and Child Development, my purpose is to restore the importance of supporting the family and how these efforts are directly linked to social transformation and human development.
The main objectives of the national programme are to:
• Engender positive family relationships;
• Communicate family values, roles and societal expectations;
• Strengthen the bonding between family members;
• Increase communication, trust, resilience, problem solving and conflict resolution skills within the family;
• Build awareness of current family initiatives and to foster the development of strategies to address gaps
• Support a family environment that promotes optimal child and youth development.
A critical element of this programme will be an expansion of the National Parenting Policy which will facilitate an ambitious initiative to deliver support and guidance to those who are already parents, and those who will soon be.
I highlighted this thrust just last month, when I spoke at the UNFPA Conference on reducing adolescent pregnancies, as a way to finally deliver an environment where children are not denied their childhood.
THE NATIONAL COMMUNITY
In addition to the specialized and focused measures which the Government is pursuing, I must repeat that the safety and wellbeing of our children are also the responsibility of each and every man and woman of Trinidad & Tobago.
In the Task Force’s report, a number of deeply disturbing statistics were presented:
• Between 2007 and 2012 sexual offences and robberies were by far the most frequent types of crimes committed against children;
• Sexual offences and robberies accounted for approximately 84 per cent of the crimes committed against children at 42 per cent each;
• Children make up 25 percent of our population
What this means is that as we ask children to break the silence on the horror of abuse, we, as adults, must also be willing speak up and act quickly in their defense.
Such a responsibility involves you calling the police if you have solid grounds to believe that a child or children might be at risk.
Or cooperating with State services which investigate, monitor and review homes and institutions where children are cared for.
Or finding the time to assist, in whatever way you can, the community and non-Governmental organisations that seek the best interest of children. Whether it is by contributions, by volunteering or even by participating in their programmes.
If the silence is to be broken on child abuse, we are the ones who must be the first to speak up and speak loudly.
From the moment children are born, they depend on us for their wellbeing.
The trust of a child is the purest and most innocent form of trust that we can conceive of. A child that looks to us for protection believes in us, and holds no doubt that we will keep them safe and help them become who they want to be.
Such trust reminds me of one the most inspired passages I’ve ever read on children, by Khalil Gibran who once said:
“You may give them your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you…”
Today, I add to that inspired passage when I say that…thoughts you may not be able to give to your children, but your voice can surely be the beacon of their safety.
Ladies and gentlemen, to save our children, we must break the silence! Here, today, now…we must break the silence.
May God Bless you all. I thank you…