Minister of National Diversity and Social Integration Dr Rodger Samuel yesterday made a call for society to “desexualise”. (According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary this means to “strip of sexual character”).
Samuel, who is also a Full Gospel pastor, was asked to share his sentiments on the national debate over Point Fortin mother Helen Bartlett who posted a video on Facebook showing her beating her 12-year-old daughter for posting indecent photos on Facebook.
“It’s difficult to comment on that. I am concerned about abuse,” he said.
Samuel, who was at the time conducting a tour of renovations at the Red House, St Vincent Street, Port of Spain, also responded to questions about claims by pupils of St Michael’s School for Boys, Diego Martin, about abuse.
The institution is being investigated over claims of abuse from three boys, aged 11 to 13, who said they were beaten and verbally abused by staff members of the school. The school is also being investigated over the recent death of 14-year-old Brandon Hargreaves who was said to have been play-fighting when he suffered a fatal fall.
Samuel went on to say both children and adults were daily bombarded with a “sexually charged society”.
He said: “We can ‘desexualise’ the society. If there is such a word as ‘desexualise’. We should look at changing the environment. It is a serious task. And if the State does not have the answers, then we need to turn to the church, Islam, the pundit or imam or else we will continue to have problems. The fool hath said in his heart there is no God.”
Samuel also said it was a biblical injunction to discipline children.
He said: “We should not spare the rod and spoil the child. Train up the child in the way it should go and when it is old it will not depart from it. If we are saying parents should not be allowed to discipline their children we have to be careful we are not stepping into grounds that we should not. Discipline in the house is for the parents.”
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, on learning of the Facebook beating, had responded Wednesday by saying her Government would look at legislation that can offer protection to children in their homes. There was a storm of criticism in response to this and on Thursday Persad-Bissessar clarified her position, saying it would not be a unilateral decision but would have to go through the Ministry of Child Development before coming to Cabinet.
Samuel also said he was concerned about training for parents.
“Parenting is an art. Teenagers are becoming parents. It is important for us to go back to proper parenting,” he said.
He also said men were mandated by God to exercise responsibility for their jobs, children and families.
“Before God gave Adam a wife, he gave him a job. He had to work in the Garden (of Eden). Adam had to be a responsible person,” said Samuel.
The Express also spoke to Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers’ Association (TTUTA) president Devanand Sinanan about whether the 12-year-old was in danger of being exposed to further ridicule if she remained at the school where she is a form one pupil. The child did not go to school Monday for the start of the school term. The beating which was posted on Facebook took place Sunday.
Via a telephone interview, Sinanan said: “Moving the child could be further disruptive. You don’t move children from school to school. The guidance officer will give her the necessary counselling. She has her friends there. The teachers will work with her. These things happen on a daily basis. But we are too pretentious.”
Sinanan added: “I think there is nothing wrong with the child going back to the school. There must be genuine counselling for both the mother and the child. Here is a mother who is struggling to bring up her children. The young lady will continue with the education. Obviously, there is need for counselling on the part of the young child. I can’t understand what the hypocrisy is about. Why is there a need to move the child?”
While Sinanan said “the mother went a little too far”, he observed that giving a child a sound licking was endemic in our national culture and psyche.
He said: “The woman tried to discipline her child in the perfect way. In Trinidad and Tobago, that is a very normal thing to do. She gave her a beating. Nothing abnormal in doing that. It is culturally acceptable here. In Norway, it would not be acceptable. When we look around this is the reality. I got licks as a child. Many professionals can attest to getting licks as a child.”
Giving an analysis of Bartlett’s actions, he said: “If you want to put yourself on YouTube, I will give something to put. That is part of our culture. Nothing is abnormal about that. I agree she went overboard.”
Meanwhile, Sinanan said there was a tremendous amount of work to be done in the vineyard with regard to the provision of support services.
He said: “We have a number of frustrated parents who don’t know where to turn. They don’t know where to go for help when their children are ‘acting up’. They must be able to get professional help. It’s easy to flag the ‘at-risk students’. The problem is where do you turn. And if you can’t get them into some counselling programme, Then it is helpless when you ‘flag’ them.”
Commenting on the element of “hypocrisy”, Sinanan said: “I hope we will consider the other thousands of children who are in similar circumstances. There are many parents who are struggling to bring up their children and we don’t have support systems in place. Instead of the Government officials trying to determine if they can be charged, they should be providing homes and support systems where we can refer our children. “
Sinanan sounded a warning knell.
“We have to be careful when we start to legislate to parents about abuse. Based on our culture, history and society, we have to be careful,” he said.
Asked about the education conference, Sinanan said allocation of resources to funding education, teacher workload, unattractive salaries and protest days were on the drawing board.
Sinanan said: “We discussed issues we have in common like resources allocated to education or the lack thereof. In the United Kingdom, there have been major cuts in terms of funding to schools. Teachers are leaving the classroom because the salary is unattractive. There is a lot more workload for teachers to carry out. They voted to engage in four days of strike action across the countries.”
Sinanan added: “In England, they are also upset when the high- handed manner in which the coalition government (David Cameron) is going about education reforms without consulting the union. There is an apparent attempt to “deprofessionalise teaching” by allowing principals to hire anyone to be a teacher. There is the whole threat to British education. There is the move to get companies to take over schools and turn them into academies.”