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The children we lost

By Susan Mohammed

LITTLE Kimora Roopnarine spent her last day of life like many other two-year-olds. On the morning of September 16, her mother dropped her off at a day-care centre near their home in Enterprise, Chaguanas, and went to work.
The toddler spent about eight hours playing with her friends, listening to stories and making her care-givers smile with her bubbly personality, before she waved good-bye in the afternoon.
She was picked up by a male relative to be taken to their home. The next time little Kimora came out of the house was to be carried to a hospital where doctors and nurses fought to save her life.
Her last breaths were a struggle, barely squeezing past three broken ribs.
She died at hospital.
The cause of death was blunt-force trauma to the chest consistent with a beating.
The killing of the little girl outraged the public and the police investigators who promised that the killer would be found and justice would be served.
Four months later, police are yet to make any arrests in the killing of a child whose funeral drew hundreds of mourners.
Over a dozen written and oral statements have been compiled by homicide detectives in the case, but it remains open and the murderer is free.
Kimora’s killing was one of 15 in Trinidad and Tobago this year, and one of 38 over the last four years, according to statistics from chairperson of the new Child Protection Task Force, Diana Mahabir-Wyatt.
In a panel discussion on human rights hosted by the United Nations Development Programme in December, Mahabir-Wyatt said abuse and the murder of children were rising in Trinidad and Tobago.
Often, the killers turned out to be those who should be protecting them, said Mahabir-Wyatt.
Criminologist Renee Cummings said there is a direct correlation between domestic violence and child abuse.
“If we don’t treat with the high levels of violence in our society, we will not see a reduction in childhood victimisation”, said Cummings. “Families are in trouble. We are seeing family violence, domestic violence and interpersonal violence, but what we are not seeing are the therapeutic interventions, the relevant social programming and the support groups that can assist families who are in deep trouble.
“Our men are crying out for help and, as a society, we are not listening. We need programmes for men that assist them in understanding and managing their anger and with strategies for self-regulation so they can become more aware of the physical cues and emotional responses to stress and frustration. Men need to know they can access help”.
Since the death of little Kimora, four other children, from as young as three days to six years old, were murdered.
Three of the four were allegedly killed by a parent.
Newborn Nishan Lal was found dead on October 5 by the bank of a river in Manzanilla, and his mother was charged with manslaughter.
Two-year-old Andre Mowlah Jnr, of Cap-de-Ville, Point Fortin, was allegedly slammed to the ground by his father, Andre Mowlah Snr, in a fit of rage on October 12.
On November 20, one-year-old Jacob Munroe was beaten to death and his tiny body was discovered buried under filth in a cesspit in St Joseph.
Then on November 28, six-year-old Keyana Cumberbatch met a savage end.
The second year pupil had her head bashed in, was raped, then her decaying body was uncovered underneath a pile of clothing in a cargo barrel. She had been missing for five days before she was discovered in her mother’s bedroom in an apartment in Maloney.
Pathologist Dr Valery Alexandrov concluded that Keyana was raped as she was dying.
The brutality which Keyana suffered distressed the nation, and many took to the social media to express their outrage.
A Facebook profile under the name “Justice for Keyana Cumberbatch” has drawn support from almost 2,500 people.
Within days, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar announced the formation of the CPTF, empowering it to carry out an in-depth situation analysis of the factors which cause and increase risks of crimes against children.
According to CPTF member and Minister of Gender and Youth Affairs Clifton De Coteau, the task force is also appointed to make proposals on how legislation, State agencies, non-governmental organisations and all stakeholders, including parents, can better protect children as they seem to increasingly have become the targets and victims of all forms of crime, from sexual assault, to physical and emotional abuse, and even murder.
Cummings said the CPTF “has no choice but to deliver because the entire nation is watching and waiting to see what it comes up with and how soon”.
In addition to the CPTF, the Police Service, other State agencies and NGOs must also exhibit proper training in dealing with cases, she said.
“As a nation we need to ensure the Police Service is trained in investigating missing and exploited children. We need to ensure the Police Service develops a best-practice protocol to assist officers in performing competent, productive and thorough missing and abducted children investigations”, said Cummings.
“State agencies and NGOs must equip themselves through best-practice training. Practitioners must bring their A-game to the job every day. They have got to make this country safer for the nation’s children. There needs to be a recommitment on the part of all agencies offering services for children and law enforcement to defend our children.”
Cummings suggested that the State must revisit its adoption polices as well as design and introduce a robust foster-care system, group homes and community residences to support youth who are in trouble.
“We need to re-examine our approach to youth and family justice. We need to know that families need wrap-around services and not just one day of counselling after a tragedy”, said Cummings.
She said the State also needs to focus on children’s exposure to violence and the development of best-practice interventions that prevent children’s exposure to violence.
“Violent behaviour is provoked by a complex interaction of physiological, psychological and environmental factors and we need to design interventions that treat with each factor. It is also time for a national behaviour change campaign that explores violence in its myriad expressions and the many proclivities to violence”, she said.
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