Saturday, 21 December 2013

The Rights of the Child in Trinidad and Tobago

TalkCity Radio Editorial - December 20, 2013

I think it would be true to say that there is universal support for the view that our children require a level of special protection and care. That they are special. That they did not ask to be here. Providing for them is not welfare or affected benevolence. We bring them into the world and it is our individual and collective obligation to ensure they are free to enjoy levels of freedom and rights, some of which we as adults do not enjoy.

Yes, rights. Our children have rights. They are not toys or pets or chattel property.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which derives its essential flavour from the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, was signed by this country in 1990 and ratified in 1991. It is a binding international treaty.

Ratifying the treaty means we have declared to the world and have agreed to comply with the special rights accorded this special group of people among us.

I am not going to be judgmental and I am not going to point any fingers at anybody. I’m simply going to explain what being a part of this treaty means and you decide whether, as a society, we are meeting our end of the bargain.

For one, there is the basic right to survival. It is a basic and fundamental right every human being ought to enjoy. We are also obligated to ensure that our children are allowed to develop physically, emotionally and intellectually to the fullest so that they are able to participate meaningfully in the world we leave behind for them.

We are also mandated to protect them from harmful influences, abuse and exploitation. Let me add a few notes to this. This requirement to protect our children from harm, abuse and exploitation is further elaborated in a wide variety of separate laws. The Children Act of 2012 is very clear and very specific and is an enlightened piece of legislation which raises the standard of our compliance with the Convention.

At a time when it is perceived that we are in the midst of a tsunami of child abuse of various kinds, we should take some of our web-surfing and Facebooking time and devote it toward reading and understanding what this piece of legislation is really saying to us.

Under the section on Prevention of Cruelty to Children, read what is said about administering of corporal punishment. But we will not be side-tracked by that.

The Convention also calls on signatory countries to ensure the conditions are there for children to participate fully in family, cultural and social life.

Human rights advocates would point to four core principles – non-discrimination; devotion to the rights of the child; the right to life, survival and development; and (listen to this) respect for the views of the child.
If we were to put together a score-card on our performance, how would we rate ourselves?

We have marriage and divorce legislation on our books which permit the marriage of children – defined in our Children Act as people under the age of 18. These laws also set different limits on male and female children. In the Marriage and Divorce Act for Islamic marriages the age of consent for boys is 16 and for girls 12. Under the Hindu Marriage Act the age of consent for males is 18 and for girls 14. The Orisha Act sets the age of consent for males at 18 and for girls, 16.

The Sexual Offences Act sets yet another standard in instances of rape and incest and other forms of sexual assault.

It is clear that we need to sit down again as a society and think through some of these things. Current work to strengthen and better enable the Children’s Authority to do its work is a worthwhile start. But in a sense it represents only a part of the wider landscape. Much work needs to be done on ensuring there is more informed public opinion on the core issues, that the laws are applied dutifully and fairly and that average everyday people become more involved in advocating for a better deal for our children.

The Children’s Authority needs our full support and the work of the Child Protection Task Force includes a group of committed folk who, most certainly, will bring a wide and enlightened approach to the immediate issue of the day namely the horrendous attacks on our children. It might be, as Chairman of the Task Force, Diana Mahabir-Wyatt, has said that the perception of an increased incidence is due to a greater number of reported incidents, but that there is a single child being abused somewhere in our country as we speak, is no consolation to those who believe that this scourge ought to be prosecuted in a most vigorous manner.

Hopefully, this season that we bill as being for children, will bring cause for reflection on this sad statement on the quality of our development. This cannot be the exclusive duty of the police, judiciary, the Children’s Authority and all the men and women who work for this cause on a daily basis. It is the sacred obligation of each and every one of us, not because of a treaty or law of authority, but because of our conscious and willful decision to cherish our little ones.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A wonderfully written article in general terms. It successfully dealt with the specifics relating to the issue in a most relevant and insightful way that encouraged you to read it completely and not just skim through for the basic gist of it.