Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar yesterday presented what she described as “deeply disturbing” statistics which show the most frequent crimes committed against children were sexual offences and robberies for the period 2007 to 2012.
The Prime Minister was speaking at launch of the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund’s (Unicef) Break the Silence campaign at the Hyatt Regency hotel, Port of Spain.
She said the Child Protection Task Force which she appointed submitted a report which stated that sexual offences and robberies accounted for approximately 84 per cent of the crimes committed against children at 42 per cent each per crime.
Persad-Bissessar noted that children make up 25 per cent of the country’s population.
“What this means is that as we ask children to break the silence on the horror of abuse, we, as adults, must also be willing to speak up and act quickly in their defence,” said Persad-Bissessar.
“Such a responsibility involves you calling the police if you have solid grounds to believe that a child or children might be at risk,” she added.
She urged people to cooperate with State services which investigate, monitor and review homes and institutions where children are cared for.
Persad-Bissessar said people should also make time to assist the community and non-Governmental organisations that seek the best interest of children whether is by contributions, by volunteering or even by participating in their programmes.
The Prime Minister recalled when she received news of the murder of six-year-old Keyana Cumberbatch, “As a mother, I simply could not conceive of the torment the family was suddenly plunged into. But my role as Prime Minister required that my response was based on determined action to do something significant that will save our children,”.
She said she appointed Diana Mahabir-Wyatt to lead the Child Protection Task Force to comprehensively review the framework that is currently in place to protect children, and propose measures which must immediately pursue to fortify those measures.
Chief among the findings, she said, was the undertaking that all legislative and administrative issues required to make the Children’s Authority of Trinidad and Tobago fully functional be immediately taken.
She said one of the key factors that will make this possible will be finally filling vacancies which exist as the report found that of 97 vacancies which currently exist, only 19 of those positions are filled.
Persad-Bissessar said she instructed Gender Minister Clifton De Coteau to actively pursue a resolution to this problem and further instructed the Inter-Ministerial team to ensure that the Children’s Authority was availed the financial resources that will propel their full functioning.
She said work will begin this month on the Authority’s first Assessment Centre at the Children’s Hospital at the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex and the centre will be fully operational by June of this year.
The Gender Ministry, she added, will also be constructing two Assessment Centres, one in South Trinidad (Manahambre Road, St Madeline) and one in Chaguanas — both of which will be fully operational by September of this year.