Sando Boys’ RC receive Cub Scout award
April 5, 2021
Access to healthcare is for all
April 5, 2021

Creating a child-friendly nation

By Leela Ramdeen, Chair, CCSJ & Director, CREDI

Recently, I was interviewed by Onika James of radio i95.5FM, about the killing of two minors, Simeon Daniel, 15, and Antonio Francois, 16, who, along with three other youths, had escaped from one of the facilities run by the Children’s Authority of Trinidad and Tobago (CA).

Two of the other youths were shot but are in stable condition. The fifth minor, Ricardo Thompson, 15,  has been speaking out about what he sees as deficiencies at the CA facility in which they were placed. They were in the care of the State when they escaped, sometime between March 19 and 20, after they squeezed through the burglar-proofing of a safe house.

The two were shot on the evening of Sunday, March 28. The Daily Express reported that 24 x 5.56 mm calibre shells were found at the scene of the shooting in McShine Lands, Laventille, “leading investigators to conclude automatic rifles were used”. It is alleged that men dressed in dark clothing marked ‘Police’ shot the minors.

There are about 49 homes for children that are officially recognised by the CA, and the Authority also runs some.

I am on the Board of Credo Foundation for Justice (CFJ), two facilities run by the Holy Faith Sisters. I pay tribute to them for the sterling work they do for socially displaced children, and for some who are placed there by the Court. In spite of the many challenges that exist in running the facilities, it is accepted that accountability is of paramount importance.

The CA is “a specialised agency with the responsibility for the care and protection of children, especially those who are at risk or have been victims of abuse or neglect. The Authority advocates for the rights of children and encourages and supports them to enjoy their childhood. The organisation’s overarching objective is to utilise child-friendly and progressive solutions to address children’s issues and rehabilitate them so that their full potential is realised.” Its mandate is derived “directly from legislation”.

Reading the various Editorials, articles, and reports about the sequence of events that led to the escape of the five minors, and the shooting, it’s clear that we have to take urgent action to protect the well-being of our children.

Social activist, Verna St Rose Greaves’ words are worthy of reflection. She states: “Our children continue to bite the dust. In this case many bullets. Do we really care? How do we demonstrate that caring? … Where do we go from here? Who will be held to account? Who’s going to guard the guards? What are the protocols for a corpse with a positive test result for COVID-19 (one had tested positive for the virus)? Will there be justice? Will we ever know who killed them?”

In a statement issued by the CA, we read that up to February 2021, there are 957 children under its care. The CA does not have sufficient resources to do justice to its mandate.

I agree with the statement made in The Emancipation Committee’s media release: “In light of the murder of these young boys under their care, the Authority needs to examine if they have been provided with adequate resources to fulfil their mandate and speak up if they are under-resourced.”

I urge the CA Director, Nichola Harvey-Mitchell, to ask the authorities for increased resources. Of course, there is also a need for an independent investigation into this entire tragedy, and for urgent action to address the deficiencies and the allegations made by Thompson.

One only has to read the statements by Antonio’s mother, Nicole Brathwaite, to understand the kind of trauma that Antonio would have experienced in his life, with his father being chopped to death when he was seven years old.

In spite of the efforts made by his mother—school counsellor, Police Youth Club etc, she ended up having to ask the State for assistance. What ‘Care Plan’ existed for him and for the other minors, including structured behavioural/trauma relief programmes?

Hanif Benjamin, former Chairman of the CA, has rightly stated that “delinquent children are not getting the assistance they need to rectify root causes of trauma but are instead being pushed further into an abyss…We treat child trauma from a punitive perspective and that makes children even more angry.”

Children are God’s gift to us. The basic moral test of a society is how it treats its vulnerable members, including children. It’s time to review systems and structures to create a child-friendly nation.

…the common good is best safeguarded when personal rights and duties are guaranteed. The chief concern of civil authorities must therefore be to ensure that these rights are recognized, respected, coordinated, defended and promoted, and that each individual is enabled to perform his duties more easily… (60)

Pope John XXIII, Pacem in Terris                                             

CCSJ Social Justice Education Committee