Are the issues relating to the protection of children still important?
More than two weeks have passed since the appointment of the Child Protection Task Force with the responsibility to recommend urgent action swiftly. If the past record of inaction is any guide the population can expect this latest response to the life career of children in Trinidad and Tobago to be no more than a public relations response to highly publicised tragedies.
The events that have made the headlines in the recent past relate to the extreme cruelty that is rested on defenseless children resulting in their death. The leaders of the Government and the Opposition seize the opportunity to express genuine and sincere concern that identified them against the diverse horror stories of rape, neglect and murder visited upon those who carry the future of T&T in the content of their upbringing.
But there is a backdrop it behooves us all to note carefully. These politically correct noises from the politicians must be seen against a background of a pattern of neglect and failure to deliver on the responsibilities of incumbency to ensure the country’s success in attaining the Millennium Development Goals by 2015, especially those that focus on the human rights of children. Are our political leaders capable of seeing the big picture? And, if they cannot what measures — political and constitutional — must the population enforce to uphold the rights of children?
The charge is also imposed on the state of Trinidad and Tobago to take action in several clearly defined ways to protect the nation’s children, when we ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991 more than two decades ago.
The experience tells a story no different from the continuing acts of violence against defenseless children. For example, the record shows the truth as to where our politicians stand. There are Acts waiting to be proclaimed, there are Bills that were allowed to lapse and were never brought back to the Parliament by parties or individual parliamentarians. I find shocking the legislative career of no less than seven pieces of legislation from the year 2000 onwards that require the immediate attention of the government and opposition as noted in the following table:
There have been conferences, seminars, workshops and talk shops over the past several years that put children first but nothing gets moving. The issue seems to expose a more pervasive challenge of severe administrative paralysis that affects government decision-making, the process of ordering priorities and confirms a passive constitutional role for citizens. All the background work has been done. The only element missing is a capacity to enforce the political will to take action. Well that tells another story.
There are professional well-trained child caregivers waiting to be interviewed for jobs they are trained for. Progress can be made only when adequate funding is made available for the staff to be hired and trained in a timely manner, and when those hired are provided with suitable accommodation and resources to do meaningful work with the level of competence and the urgency that would make immediate impact on the children who are known to be in need of state protection. No doubt more will become known once the work starts.
The present government is led by a female who is a mother and grandmother (with all the positive sensitivities that are implied) and together with all the fathers, sons and brothers who hold political, financial and administrative power, they have repeatedly failed to take action to protect children. Politicians of all stripes appear hopelessly incapable of seeing how providing the resources for the care and protection of children would impact on what they see as the biggest problem - the need for the reduction of crime in the long term. They are consumed with the weapons to deal with the criminal. They do not understand how early intervention is always more cost-effective than the correction of a defect.
It is a crying shame that we do not protect our children. The Child Protection Task Force has no new activity to initiate. The time has come for the sense of urgency to translate into urgent executive action. The social issues are not as glamorous and visible as tall buildings, highways and bridges. We may have to wait another decade to observe any significant impact, but an immediate sustainable intervention is crucial for all the welfare of the children we persuade ourselves we truly love. We have seen enough to learn that the nation’s future is more in the totality of the phalanx of welfare measures we erect to defend children, and not only the book bags they take to school.
• Gloria Henry was a Minister in the National Alliance for Reconstruction Government (1986-1991)