The Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is an international UN organisation comprising 18 independent experts from several countries. Its role is to monitor countries, including Trinidad and Tobago, which have ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to determine how children’s rights are being implemented.
T&T has hitherto submitted three five-year periodic reports to CRC: in 1997, 2006 and 2011. Each time T&T submits its report, CRC responds by reviewing our details and setting out concluding observations which compliments T&T on particular initiatives and offers specific direction on the things we have yet to do.
In its concluding observations for 2006, CRC noted with appreciation the package of legislation for the protection of children in 2000: Children’s Authority Act establishing a body responsible for receiving complaints from children in alternative care; Children’s Community Residences, Foster Homes and Nurseries Act aimed at ensuring compliance of all children’s homes with existing rules and standards; Miscellaneous Provisions (Children) Act bringing in line laws affecting children; Children (Amendment) Act defining a child as under 18 years of age and Adoption of Children Act aimed to regulate adoption procedures.
But CRC was “deeply concerned that these laws have not entered into force, except for the Miscellaneous Provisions (Children) Act. That was in 2006; seven years later, in 2013, Children’s Authority Act is only partially proclaimed, the Children’s Community Residences, Foster Care and Nurseries Act has not been proclaimed, the Adoption of Children Act has not been proclaimed and the Children Act 2012, which will revise criminal offences against children and procedures for child offenders, has not been proclaimed.
According to the Children’s Authority website, two additional pieces of legislation, the Status of Children (Amendment) Bill 2009, which would replace blood tests with DNA analysis to ascertain parentage, and the Family Court Bill 2009, which would vest all family and juvenile matters in the Family Court, have to be re-introduced to Parliament.
In 15 months between 1992 and 1993, T&T prepared and approved a National Plan of Action for Children. The plan was the result of discussions with key NGOs and technocrats from several state agencies, as well as analyses of reports and studies relevant to children. Thirteen years later, in 2006 when T&T submitted its report to CRC, the action plan had not been activated.
CRC recommended that T&T “urgently adopt” the plan and went as far as to suggest that T&T seek technical assistance from, inter alia, UNICEF and involve civil society in the preparation and implementation of it. Now, in 2013, that plan is still not implemented and yet another task force has been set up with some of the same people who were involved in the 1992-1993 exercise that is likely to recommend another revised action plan.
CRC observed that T&T had registered positive economic development but was concerned about the insufficient budgetary allocation for children. It recommended that T&T prioritise budgetary allocations to ensure implementation of rights of children “to the maximum extent of available resources” and take into account the imbalance in how resources are allocated.
Up to the 2013/2014 budget, this has not been done.
CRC was further concerned at the absence of “comprehensive and up-to-date statistical data” in T&T’s report and the lack of an adequate national data collection system for children more generally. In other words, the state of T&T does not know where our children are, which of them are vulnerable, how many of them need help, what their circumstances are etc. Such data is critical in planning, supervising, and evaluating progress and determining what is working and what is not.
Naturally, the accompanying recommendation was for the country to develop a system of data collection and indicators, all separated by gender, age, dependencies and geographical area. This system of data collection, CRC said, should cover all children up to the age of 18 with emphasis on those who are particularly vulnerable, including children living in poverty, children with disabilities, children from single-parent families, children victims of sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, economic exploitation and of trafficking, and street children.
This too has not been done. The Children’s Authority seems positioned to do this but, as we know, the authority is not fully operational. When Verna St Rose-Greaves was minister of gender, youth and child development, she had begun to put in place a national child registry to record and track the lives of children. After her dismissal, nothing more has been heard about this initiative.
It is important that the public is informed about the responsibility that resides with the State of Trinidad and Tobago to set and implement policies to protect children. It is important that the public is informed of how the persistent problem of child abuse and neglect can be resolved, even if not fully so. The more that is known, the better prepared people will be to make demands and assess proposals.
Saving children appears to be an insurmountable task because many systems and problems interlock to create a feeling of helplessness. But the problem is far from insurmountable. It can be unravelled and addressed bit by bit on a sustained and phased basis. When we are no more, our children will still be here…or will they?
—To be continued