It has taken all of 15 years, but the basket of legislation designed to protect Children is now finally in effect.
Four critical pieces of legislation, two dating back to 2000, have now been proclaimed. These include the regulation of children's nurseries and adoptions, the establishment of the umbrella agency of the Children's Authority and an updated Children's Act, designed to protect children from all kinds of abuses while stiffening the punishment for adults who commit crimes against them.
The task now is to make all of this work for our children. In marking the moment at a news conference yesterday, the director of the Children's Authority, Sharifa Ali-Abdullah, disclosed some horrendous data that should shock this entire nation.
Nineteen children murdered in one year suggests that, for the little ones, this country is the equivalent of a war zone. Equally alarming was her report of rising crimes against children with a 100 per cent increase registered in east Trinidad and in Tobago. It would if it were to be proven that this increase is due to a higher level of reporting rather than an increase in crime. However, the increase in murders would suggest otherwise.
The Children's Authority certainly has its work cut out. Under the chairmanship of attorney Stephanie Daly and the management of Ms Ali-Abdullah it has been doing significant groundwork. Now, with the proclamation of these pieces of legislation, one hopes that it is ready and equipped to rush to our children's defence.
We encourage the Authority to see the rest of the society as partners in the protection of our children. It is people on the ground who will be their eyes and ears in communities big and small. They are the ones on whom all of us will rely to pick up the phone and dial the Authority's hotline numbers, 996 or 800-2014, to report acts of abuse.
In building this nationwide child protection network, public information will be one of the most critical resources. We therefore encourage the Authority to move swiftly in ensuring that the public is fully armed with an understanding of all these laws so that they can play their part in monitoring the environment and conditions to which our children are subjected.
While this is landmark legislation, Trinidad and Tobago has had too much experience of much-hyped legislation that fail to have the promised impact. This has been the case with the Freedom of Information Act, the Integrity in Public Life Act as well as anti-Gang legislation, to name but a few. We cannot afford any of the pieces of legislation designed to protect our children to fail to deliver. Their very lives are riding on it.
However, it requires more than just laws to protect children. What is needed is a transformational cultural change in which the society joins forces against violence against children and assumes responsibility for all children. If the newly proclaimed legislation sets a new standard for how T&T treats with children, it would have begun the work that is so much needed.