has an advantage over the rest of the Caribbean.
With our oil and gas reserves, projections of economic growth
and burgeoning industries, the country rests comfortably atop
the pile of rapidly progressing nations.
In T&T, as compared to other Third World countries, children
are not under attack.
Rather, we face the afflicting condition of children growing
older without experiencing a childhood.
Our social circumstance is not as extreme as armed conflicts
which draw children into civil wars, or political regimes
that force families to flee for the sake of preserving life.
Or is it?
We face a pervasive scenario that cannot be revealed by world
indexes, or regional statistics unless one is willing to read
between the lines, do the math, or is jolted out of a position
of comfort by a tragic incident.
For many, the recent murder of six-year-old Sean Luke has
once again shone the spotlight on members of our society often
The United Nations define childhood as the state and
condition of a childs life, in essence, the quality
of years spent between the ages zero and 18.
How are our childrens lives progressing?
T&T joined 191 countries in ratifying the Convention on
the Rights of the Child, therein pledging to be the protector
of our nations children.
Reporter Cordielle Street will take a look at the status of
our children approximately 15 years after the convention.
Have the aims of the convention been brought to life by the
Government and society alike or is it nothing more than dried
ink on paper?
The quandary in which T&T finds itself is not one unique
to the world, but it is one unshared by many in the Caribbean.
T&T is oil rich but society poor.
None bear the brunt of this contradiction more than children.
They rest uncomfortably and unheard at the lower tier of societys
pecking order, only to be seen when one of these vulnerable
people are gravely violated or killed.
As the law stands, colonial-era legislations continue to dictate
Meant to govern a few thousand, these laws still reign over
progressive treaties signed and sealed by past and present
The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), to date,
remains the most ratified human rights document in the world.
Nevertheless, much of the rights outlined in the CRC have
yet to become a reality for children today.
Belize stands as the only Commonwealth country to incorporate
the CRC into national law.
Fifteen years later, the simple ideology that children
are neither the property of their parents nor are they helpless
objects of charity is yet to be reflected legally, politically
IS A CHILD
Article one of the CRC states a child is any human being below
the age of 18.
In T&T, this is more a generally understood norm than
a legal proclamation.
The Childrens Authority Act 2000, which would empower
the edict, remains un-proclaimed by the President.
Therefore, existing law dictates a child can be looked at
as one 16 years and under.
Ironically, for the sake of prosecution in cases under the
sexual offences act, a child is one that has yet to achieve
the age of 18.
In the juvenile courts in the United States, a study revealed
that more than 91 per cent of children standing trial were
between the ages of 12 and 17.
This state of confusion in the law is but one of the muddled
scenarios through which children manoeuvre.
CHILDRENS AUTHORITY ACT
Even without a legally supported definition, most children
in T&T have benefited one way or the other from the CRC
adopted on December 5, 1991.
While the Childrens Authority Act would, for the first
time, bring a definitive and encompassing body catering solely
to the needs of children, there have been snippets of law
reform inclusive of minors.
Yet a concern remains that 15 years later, the Caribbean has
not adequately addressed the general principles of the CRC
and have reacted fragmentally to issues concerning children.
PROMOTING HEALTHY LIVES
The promotion of healthy lives for children is an ambitious
and wide-ranging goal. There are about 197 million children
living in the Caribbean and Latin America.
Under the CRC, the government has pledged (article 24) to
recognise the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest
attainable standard of health.
Regionally, the Caribbean has achieved near universal immunisation
This has been reinforced in T&T by the requirement that
a child must be immunised in order to attend school.
When the causes of infant and childhood deaths in the Caribbean
are examined, according to the State of the Worlds Children
report 2005, many are found to be preventable and or easily
It is often routine for newspaper articles to highlight the
plight of families seeking assistance from the
public towards medical attention for an ailing child.
Intervention by the state in these cases are often individualistic,
while the issues behind the inability of public facilities
to cater to these needs are often unaddressed.
Waiting lists for surgeries at public hospitals, even life-saving
ones, are long and over transcribed.
Yet restricting a healthy lifestyle to mean access
to excellent healthcare is detrimental to the state of a child.
Childhood requires a standard of living adequate for
the childs physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social
developmentCRC article 27.
Therefore, childhood becomes directly linked to the level
of education, the earning ability, the societal standing and
even the gender of their main caregiver.
Studies have shown that poverty tends to be higher among single
parent, female-headed households.
In T&T and throughout the wider Caribbean, we are seeing
an increase in single-parent households. More than 19 per
cent of households nationwide are headed by single mothers.
PROVIDING QUALITY EDUCATION
Enrolment in primary schools nationwide has achieved a high
of over 90 per cent. However, education remains compulsory
in T&T only to the age 12.
State schools are free, many private schools are assisted
and tertiary level education has now joined the ranks of 100
per cent government-funded.
Overcrowding remains a constant problem and is now joined
by disturbing reports of sexual abuse and student violence.
Eighty cases of reported sexual abuse have been received from
60 of 480 primary schools, according to the Ministry of Educations
18-month-old Student Support Services Division.
New trend of sexual altercations amongst infant children in
In T&T, learning disabilities ranked second amongst disorders
in school children.
Most schools are not equipped to facilitate physically-disabled
Teenage mothers make up yet another category of children that
are falling through the gaps of education by not returning
to schools post-pregnancy.
The school has now taken on roles once reserved for the family
Education has grown to mean more than reading, writing,
In addition to teachers and principals, social workers, guidance
counsellors, nurses and family health life educators are roles
that need to be fulfilled according to the United Nations
Childrens Fund (Unicef).
Bearing the brunt of neglect, however, are mentally and physically-disabled
children, who, under the CRC, should enjoy a full and
decent life in conditions which promote self-reliance.
Of sweeping significance is the little known fact that the
most prevalent disability in children in the Caribbean was
difficulty in learning.
There are no reliable statistics on sexual abuse or sexual
exploitation of children in the Caribbean.
At present, the judicial system is taking a harsher stance
on acts of sex with a minor and more cases of sexual molestation
especially within the homes are being reported as society
becomes sensitised to these issues.
The problem of child sexual abuse is worsened by the reluctance
of parents, guardians, caregivers, teachers and other professionals
to report itUnicef.
In the Caribbean, 48 per cent of females and 32 per cent of
males between the ages of 10 and 25 reported forced sexual
The age for sexual consent in T&T still remains fairly
low, at 14 years for girls and 16 years for boys.
Intercourse by a woman with a 16-year-old boy is only punishable
by up to seven years in prison.
Sexual abuse has taken precedent over other types of abuse
and exploitation when pertaining to children.
Physical abuse is still within a shadow realm, as society
traditionally supports corporal punishment.
There is no comprehensive government policy on child labour
and minimum age remains at 14.
The minimum age of criminal responsibility in T&T remains
at seven years of age.
A Paho study revealed many young people reported a history
of violence in their lives.
In the Caribbean, one in five boys and one in eight girls
say that they have belonged to a gang, according to the study.
In 2005, 25 children under the age of 18 were murdered in
Every day, about 1,700 children become infected with HIV worldwide.
Nearly half of all new infections are reported in the age
group 15 to 24.
This does not discount the susceptibility of newborns to contracting
the disease from mothers unable to access anti-retroviral
The effects on children who may be orphaned due to a parent
or both parents dying from the disease are yet to be fully
The debate over children being allowed access to information
on sex, HIV/Aids and other sexually transmitted disease in
schools continues to remain highly contentious and controversial.
A Survey of Caribbean adolescent have shown that more than
40 per cent had their first sexual experience before 10.
More than 50 per cent reported that they did not use any form
of contraception during their last sexual encounter.
From 2001 to 2005, there was a 48 per cent decrease in reported
Aids cases in T&T.
More than 15,940 HIV/Aids cases recorded in T&T since
The Government pledged to reduce HIV prevalence amongst young
people (15 to 24) by 25 per cent by 2010.
NGOs continue to lobby the Government for the introduction
of age sensitive family life and health education in schools.
Losing one or both parents to Aids-related complications make
children more vulnerable to HIV, according to Technical Director
of the National Aids Co-ordinating Committee Dr Amery Browne.