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Task Force info to be kept private, says De Coteau

By Joel Julien joel.julien@trinidadexpress.com

Members of the recently established Child Protection Task Force have been essentially gagged, Minister of Gender, Youth and Child Development Clifton De Coteau explained Friday.

“The discussions, documentation of meetings, review and filing of policy and event information, storage and data related to the task force shall be kept private and confidential,” De Coteau said.

“No member of the task force is empowered to make and engage public statements on its functioning or purpose whether in writing, through media interviews, or through discussions outside of the task force,” he said.

De Coteau made the statement during the sitting of the Parliament. The task force held its first meeting Friday and reported to the Prime Minister.

De Coteau said Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar appointed the task force “to carry out an in depth situation analysis of the factors which cause and increase risks of crimes against children”.

The task force is also appointed to “make proposals on how legislation, State agencies, nongovernmental organisations and all stakeholders, including parents can better protect children.”

“In the midst of measures to counter the increase in crime, children have increasingly become the targets and victims of all forms of crime, from sexual assault, to physical and emotional abuse and even murder,” he said.

De Coteau listed the several “tragic and mysterious” deaths involving the nation’s children starting with Akiel Chambers in 1998.

He said despite several legislative amendments and the coming into force of the Children’s Authority of Trinidad and Tobago “crimes against children continue to occur”.

De Coteau said the task force has been given six weeks to produce its report.

“The recommendations will then be discussed at the level of Cabinet before being presented to the Parliament,” he said.

De Coteau said the task force is not “formed as an alternative unit or sub-set of any ministry and shall be dissolved immediately upon delivery of its final report”.

Diana Mahabir-Wyatt, the task force’s chairman, is empowered to request information relevant to its mandate only through line ministers or their assigned representatives, De Coteau said.

“The Child Protection Task Force is not empowered to summon or question any stakeholder or public service employee,” he said.

“Where the need arises for specific information to be obtained from any stakeholder or public service employee, requests shall be made on behalf of the task force by line ministers,” De Coteau said.
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