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New Laws to Protect the Children
By Peter Richards, IPS, 27 September 1999
PORT OF SPAIN, Sept 27 (IPS) - By the time he left St. Mary's Home for Children at age 15, Anthony Jackson had run away at least four times, heard of his supervisors being involved in homosexual acts, and was himself subjected to acts of cruelty.
Abandoned by his mother and taken to the children's home as a four-month-old baby, Jackson, now 28 says despite all the bad times, he still considers the institution as the best thing in his life as he knew nothing else.
"Growing up at the institution, you had the good and the bad times," he says, adding that his reasons for running away on four occasions had to do with the beatings he received from the Games Master
At St. Mary's administered by Roman Catholic nuns, Jackson recalls the children there referring to their non-religious supervisors by names such as "Batman, Robin, and Broom Man".
"They send a signal of aggression," he says of the supervisors, one of whom, Julian Harper admitted to having "flogged" the children in the past.
Harper, who has since resigned worked at that institution which accommodates at least 500 children for 29 years, serving as Games Master.
"In those days flogging was never outlawed. I was in charge of 30-40 students at any one time, but I don't think I abused them," he said.
In 1997, a government-appointed task force to investigate the operations of children's homes across the country, reported allegations of starvation, sexual abuse, molestation, and discrimination on the grounds of religion.
Further, the report spoke of the "very confrontational" manner in which the administrative staff at some of these homes had when approached for information on the allegations.
But abuses of children are reported to be becoming more rampant these days.
Minister of Culture and Gender Affairs, Dr. Daphne Phillips, speaking at the recent launch of a shelter for battered women and children, alluded to the "decline in caring" among the population for the current crisis.
"Our laws for protecting children are antique and obsolete," says one observer in a letter to the editor in one of the newspapers here.
It is the knowledge that this situation is getting more serious that government is now moving to act. Earlier this month, the Social Development Minister Manohar Ramsaran said the government was putting together a new package of legislation aimed at ensuring the proper care of children in foster homes, nurseries and other institutions.
He said the package of five bills headed for parliament follows the recent examination of current legislation relating to children by a government-appointed team.
One of the proposed bills, "The Children's Authority Bill" will focus on a central coordinating body regarding all matters involving children and will fall under the direct supervision of the Social Development Ministry.
The Foster Care and Nurseries Bill will provide for the investigation of all matters involving staff and parents of children in foster homes and nurseries.
It will allow for the investigation of reports of mistreatment of children in homes and also for the monitoring of nurseries to ensure they comply with proper care standards.
Under the Miscellaneous Children's Bill will fall issues involving punishment of children of any age. This Bill will also prohibit children from being locked up in adult prisons.
These Bills are expected to be brought to parliament before the present term ends next month.
Origin: Rome/POPULATION-TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO/
[c] 1999, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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