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From newsdesk@igc.apc.org Thu Jan 20 17:11:59 2000
Date: Wed, 19 Jan 2000 13:25:22 -0600 (CST)
From: IGC News Desk <newsdesk@igc.apc.org>
Subject: RIGHTS-TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO: Efforts to Stem Domestic Violence
Article: 87073
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
X-UIDL: 028dd4b5f3c63576a7c8e7f2853ef0dc

Efforts to Stem Domestic Violence Slow to Bear Fruit

By Peter Richards, IPS, 12 January 2000

PORT OF SPAIN, Jan 12 (IPS) - Despite a concerted prevention effort by government and grassroots social organisations, deaths resulting from domestic violence continue unabated in Trinidad and Tobago, with two tragic incidents this month alone.

Even calypsonians, as the Carnival season gets underway here, are lamenting in song the growing number of senseless deaths. In a piece entitled "Family," Trinidad-born, Miami-based singer Carol Jacobs wonders: "Oh God, when will this violence end?"

Between 1990 and 1999, there were approximately 146 killings stemming from domestic violence - an average of 14 women and four children annually.

"We have passed laws and started a community police initiative, we have organised NGOs (Non-Governmental Organisations) and maybe saved a few lives here and there. But we have failed to do anything about the causes of domestic violence," said Independent Senator Diana Mahabir Wyatt, a long-time advocate of women's rights.

The Trinidad and Tobago Coalition Against Domestic Violence, a loose grouping of NGOs, says despite the establishment of shelters for battered women and children, the surface has barely been scratched on the complex problem of intra-family violence.

The coalition would like to see stronger laws being put in place to deal with domestic violence.

"We have put our money and resources into high buildings, prestigious projects and paved savannahs, not into the development of our citizens as human and spiritual beings. So we have what we've paid for," the coalition said.

Charan Boodansingh, whose 21-year-old daughter Kavita was murdered last month, echoed the sentiments of the coalition. "Not enough is being done about this domestic violence situation," she said. Her daughter was strangled by her husband of four months, who subsequently committed suicide by drinking a deadly herbicide called gramaxone.

The NGO, Citizens for A Better Trinidad and Tobago (CBTT) says domestic violence has reached "such scandalous proportions that it is threatening to get completely out of hand."

"As a matter of fact, violence against women in society is much worse than we think it is, especially when we consider that many battered women protect their husbands and companions by failing to report this heinous crime," said Harrack Balramsingh, CBTT's president.

On Jan. 3, a 45-year-old man, who had reportedly battered his 30-year-old wife and their three children for the last 16 years, killed two of the children before trying to commit suicide.

And last weekend in the sister isle of Tobago, a young man slashed the throat of his two-year-old son and then drank the herbicide gramaxone following a quarrel with his common-law wife. Their relationship had recently ended.

Psychiatrist Dr. Igbal Ghany described a "sense of growing frustration" in society as incidents of domestic violence increasingly become public.

Ghany said the attitude of "If I can't have you, nobody can" after a break-up usually compounds the situation. "Some women still engage in visiting relationships and even sexual ones with their ex-partners, but this may offer false hope," he said.

"Also, the man is increasingly suspicious and thinks that whenever the woman is not with him she is probably with another man. This sort of morbid jealousy and the element of depression can be a dangerous combination," Ghany explained.

Culture and Gender Affairs Minister Dr. Daphne Phillips agrees, saying that some of the men plan their own deaths even as they "plot their murderous intentions on rejected women and their children."

"The current domestic violence problem cries for the placement of gender on both the national and international agendas," she added.

"Domestic violence is a complex, multi-faceted phenomenon which is international in scope and destructive to the fabric of society," Phillips said. "It requires a multi-sectoral approach involving government, private and international agencies as well as non-governmental and community based organisations."

Anjuman Sunnat-ul-Jamaat Association, (ASJA) the umbrella grouping for a number of Muslim organisations here, agrees that domestic violence has reached "alarming proportions."

"It must shock the nation into the realisation that the situation has escalated beyond control and constitutes a threat to the well- being and social stability of the nation," ASJA said.

ASJA asserted that the breakdown in family life has contributed significantly to the growing incidence of murder-related domestic violence cases.

It warns that the violence will continue to escalate "until society begins to recognise that some of us have become irrational human beings in whose lives God and religious values have slowly been eradicated."

The government says it realises that both legislative and social policy reform are necessary to combat the problem of domestic violence, as well as the wider issue of violence and crime in society.

The Basdeo Panday administration last August updated existing legislation on domestic violence and violence against women and children.

The amended legislation provides for Protection Orders and counselling in domestic violence cases, as well as the "efficient and effective" response of the police when called to scenes of such violence.

Working with a number of NGOs, the government has sponsored workshops and training sessions aimed at changing attitudes and supporting violence prevention efforts throughout the country.

At the workshops, presentations are made on dealing with family conflicts and sexual assault among other things.

"Our campaign must include routine questioning on domestic violence as a cause for injury in accident and emergency, community alarm systems, help lines, crisis funding grants and orientations for children in school as well as public attitude campaigns designed to tackle causes and effects," said Phillips.

The local media have called on authorities to examine some of the successful strategies employed by developed countries in the fight against domestic violence.

Journalists have cited the United States, where in the period 1990-94, New York City completed an epidemiological study of female homicides and adopted a number of different intervention strategies to deal with the problem.

"(The) city also involved hospitals, schools and health care insurance companies in the new focus against family violence. This integrated problem-solving approach is what we need," one local newspaper asserted in an editorial.



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