Over 35,000 calls have been generated to the national student hotline over the last year, Minister of the People Dr Glenn Ramadharsingh said yesterday.
Speaking during debate on the Children's Bill in the House of Representatives at Towed D of the Waterfront Centre, Port of Spain, Ramadharsingh said in February 2011, Government launched the national student hotline. The number is 800-4321. The Bill was passed with 37 votes.
We said because of the tragic deaths involving children, Government decided to use the service provided by an organisation called Child Line, which had a hotline service.
"It was after one of those tragic situations that the Minister of Child Development and myself quadrupled the contribution to Child Line and made the hotline a 24-hour service," he said.
He said before it became a 24-hour service, the hotline received 10,000 calls per year. "And when we made it a 24-hour service, I am now being told that we have up to 35,000 calls being generated in the last year," he said.
Ramadharsingh said he had been told that in many instances it was the child who picks up the phone and calls the hot line. "And the child is in a confused state. The child does not even understand what is happening to him or her. They call out of confusion, sadness and depression, and recognising that this is a number they can call," he said.
He said Child Development Minister Verna St Rose Greaves had been advocating for every school principal to communicate that hotline number to all pupils through fliers on the walls of the schools. "So that our children who are suffocating can now have a voice," he said.
He added that there are at least two people rostered on duty on a shift basis to monitor the student hotline. He said all this was necessary because laws alone would not address the problem of child abuse.
The Minister also spoke of Government's efforts to alleviate poverty. He said while Government was giving out more smart cards, it was also eliminating people from the smart card list through the systematic audit process.
"And we do this by people calling in and reporting those persons who are swiping food cards while they have their SUV pumping heavy music outside.
"Big rims, fancy rims, mag wheels, tinted glass, music pounding and they jump out of the SUV and swiping food card. We want to eliminate these people (from the smart card list) more and more every day. We have already taken out 4,000 persons who did not belong."
He said this allows Government to give 4,000 more to people who really need it.
He also said 507 people graduated by asking the very supermarkets of which they are clients to hire them. He said a major supermarket had given a commitment to hire a percentage of the differently-abled community in jobs such as packing.
People's National Movement MP Patricia McIntosh said Government was building on the foundation laid by the PNM in the preparation of the Children's bill. She said she supported the measures in the legislation to deal with child abuse since, as a former school principal, she could attest to the fact that many victims of child abuse were disruptive and violent and engaged in bullying in schools.
McIntosh recalled a particular pupil who was violent. She said the school later discovered the girl had been moved to four different foster homes, but she was raped and sodomised in each home and on the last occasion the perpetrator was a pastor.