Data from an Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) study on spousal violence in T&T paint a picture of a battered citizenry and a country still tolerant of violence against women and children.
Released this week, “Restoring Paradise in the Caribbean” found that 25 per cent of wives have been threatened by their spouses. Existing data tell an even more disturbing story. A study on “The prevalence of domestic violence within different socio-economic classes in Central Trinidad” published in the West Indian Medical Journal in 2010 found that “the all-strata prevalence” of domestic violence was 41 per cent. This finding was consistent with that of another 2010 work, “Abuse and mental disorders among women at walk-in clinics in Trinidad: A cross-sectional study” which found that 40 per cent of women in emergency rooms reported a past experience of domestic violence.
Cultural tolerance of violence against women and children emerged in the IDB study: one in three Caribbean adults approve of or are sympathetic to wife-beating if the wife is unfaithful and 66 per cent approve of violent discipline of children.
Violence within families is an established predictor of future behaviour. Children who witness violence regularly learn to resolve conflicts through violence and are indeed tolerant of violence in their lives and environments.
Apart from the violation of human rights manifested in violent interactions, family violence pressures all public systems and results in low productivity. Abused women manifest a wide range of medical complications including spontaneous abortions, a list of gynaecological issues, back and abdominal pains, anxiety, depression, sleep difficulties and increased likelihood of smoking, drug and alcohol abuse and risky sexual behaviours. These problems ultimately land at the doors of public institutions that then become further burdened.
Social sector interventions that prioritise mitigation of family violence form the primary meaningful strategy against national violence. There are eight shelters for battered women capable of housing 132 single women and 32 women with children. All of them are run by non-governmental organisations. Two budgets in, the current administration has yet to turn its focused attention to family violence and, indeed, the entire social sector.
There is as yet no domestic violence registry and no children's registry. A 2015 report from a parliamentary joint select committee recorded that the Domestic Violence Unit of the then Ministry of Gender had no manager and only three staff members.
Yet over the past seven years, more than $22 billion have been channelled into social sector programmes that have had little effect on the source of social decline. While there was a reference in the Minister of Finance's recent mid-year review to attending to the country's “social infrastructure” little tangible evidence exists that returns are being realised.
The IDB study sounds the latest warning. Until governments embrace the premise that crime and related social dislocation cannot be solved by military approaches alone and that mending families is the only way to heal the society, precious taxpayers' money would continue to thrown in all directions with few substantial returns.