The country as seen its share of child abuse cases from 1998 with Akiel Chambers, Amy Anamunthoodo, Sean Luke, Parmanan Persaud, Dane Andrews, and Lily Seepersad, in 2006, then we lost Hope Arismandez in 2008 and Tecia Henry in 2009. For 2011 tears followed for Daniel Guerra. Nonetheless, the systems responsible for dealing with these cases are not effective, and as a result these children are placed in a system that all too often fails them. One such system is the education system which struggles to provide a comfort zone for students to learn.
In the tucked away villages of our rural areas, teachers come face to face with the psychological effects of the horrors endured by their students. From infants to S.E.A, these students are fighting a battle to succeed academically with burdens on their shoulders. Incest, molestation, rape and neglect are topics most teachers are not trained in, but for these teachers they have no choice but to be innovation in order to help their students overcome their trials and strive for a better tomorrow.
A source at one school stated that most of the teachers are not trained to deal with the level of abuse present at the school and as a result are left to create inventive ways to help the children. According to the Ministry of Education the prerequisites for obtaining a Teachers’ Registration Number are at least five CXC or GCE “O” Level passes, valid proof of identification, a birth certificate, a Teachers’ Registration certificate and two testimonials. At an academic level teachers are taught basic Psychology and basic academic subjects like Mathematics, English, Science and Social Studies. But the major concern is how effect is the Psychology training when dealing with severely abused children. To help ease the burdens of the teachers of abused children, The Ministry of Education has implemented the Student Support Service, which consists of 46 counsellors, and 71 guidance officers allocated to 111 primary and 125 secondary schools. However, it is noticeable that this ratio is not very effective; additionally, simple counselling is not the answer to this very urgent issue, and much more must be done, to save the future of the nation.
According to one male teacher the process employed by schools when dealing with an abused child depends on different factors, particularly the type and degree of abuse, and in most cases it’s a “sea-saw” reaction between the police and the social worker. But the basic procedure requires the teacher to firstly record the suspected abuse, forward it to the principal who in turn reports it to the relative authorises. However, this procedure may be deemed unless at times, but speaking from experience he stated that in cases of severe sexual abuse it is very difficult, since evidence and parental permission is involved. Nevertheless, the underlining element involved when dealing with an abused child is communication, something he learned with time. He said that in the beginning when dealing with his early cases he allowed his emotions to get the better of him, something he realised he should not have allowed to happen. Today he says his rapport with his students is very strong and trustworthy. They respect him but know that he is there to help. As a standard five teacher he is exposed to the issues involved with the transitional age, both psychologically and physically, he says its difficult at times especially since his students mature a bit faster that the average child. Nonetheless, his experience with child abuse has driven him to pursue a degree in psychology unlike his co-workers who choose the basic degree in education.
So what exactly is the nature of abuse present at these schools? A bit hesitant he says they experience everything, from sexual, verbal, emotional and financial abuse. He speaks of one incident in which three male students were involved in a fight and he took them to the said room in which this interview was conducted, the computer lab. Corporal punishment has been abolished yet in some severe cases teachers still employ the action for disciplinary purposes. He recalls the incident step by step, the three boys sitting in the room being questioned on their actions. Then he stops and sighs, saying that when he asked the boys whether they would prefer to be scolded at school or have they parents summoned, they children begged him to scold them instead. Confused, he asked why; his recalling of their answers shocks me. “ sir my mother does beat me with whatever she have in her hand...my father does beat me with a big stone and kick meh up”.
According to the constitution of Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers Association 1.08 “a teacher shall take all reasonable care to protect the safety and welfare of students” so his decision to stop and listen to his students’ stories was indeed the right one. From an early age this male teacher was inspired to join the profession by his former teachers, who displayed exceptional dedication, and interest in their job. He says teachers today only see the job as a means of an income, since they no longer possess the devotion to educate and care for the future generation.
Failure of the systems, have left too many children in grief and lost in society. As in most abuse cases the parents come from illiterate backgrounds. As wrong as it may be to stigmatize the quality of education transmitted at various schools the reality of our society is such that most believe that the seven-year schools are better that the five-year schools. Since this cultural stigma has been embedded in the mindsets of individuals from generation to generation it is difficult to convince them otherwise, despite the conversion of the Junior Secondary Schools to seven-year Government Secondary Schools. The students who unfortunately are placed in such schools are left to fight these stigmas and in most cases they become what the stigmas placed by society predicts. These are students who drop out by age sixteen or only reach form three. For these students this is the inevitable result, which allows them to be victims of other forms of abuse; child labour.
In these villages there are many farms, and other trade oriented work places. These organizations facilitates the young dropouts who can’t cope with the basic academics requirements by employing them “off-the-books” and pay them less than minimum wage. But, for any sixteen year old boy any amount of money is better than studying for examinations.
For the girls, their stories are even sadder. Most are adding to the rising statistics of teenage pregnancy. They are victims of rape, molestation and incest. Having matured physically faster than the average teen these girls become prey to the ill-minds of these villages, including their fathers, and brothers. According to a source at the school the children are exposed to sexual activities at very young age. Most come from a small home and try to imitate what they saw their parents doing the night before. The sad reality is that most of these students are in infants, and by the time they enter standard five they know all to well the details of a sexual relationship and are very enthusiastic to experiment with both their female and male classmates. The cycle begins to start over, the new generation of abusers are the victims of abuse who don’t know better, who are angry with the world for they situations, who’s childhoods were torn away by those responsible for their welfare and safety.
According to the 2008 statistics gather by the Rape Crisis Society there were 229 new cases of reported rape, from which 60 percent of the victims belonged to the 12 to 26 age group. The same report also indicates that there were 81 cases of child sexual abuse. Additionally, The Coalition against Domestic Violence which operates the free and confidential telephone hotline “Childline” which is geared at assisting children of abuse reported that they received a total of 9,475 calls for the year 2008, 46 percent being girls and 54 percent boys.
Laws have been implemented to help deal with these situations and allow for a better environment and support system for abused children but still the nation is plagued by this heartbreaking reality. The Ministry of Social Development has reported that they have registered a total of 38 homes for children nationwide. However, according to Catholic missionary Sherri Ramirez who manages the Heart of Mary Care Centre in Toco in an article published in the Trinidad Express on January 26 2009 the number of children abandoned in recent years was higher and research has not been done to provide the best care for these children. The article also highlights that the Ministry of Social Development was focused on establishing stronger families and a support system to assist the family in keeping the children in their family homes, instead of removing the children from the abused environment.
Additionally, there is also concern surrounding the environment of some of the homes designed to serve as a rescue facility as expressed in the case of the St Mary's Children's Home in Tacarigua whereby there were allegations of physical, verbal, sexual and mental abuse at the home last year. http://www.trinidadexpress.com/news/98582279.html
On the other hand there are many non-governmental organizations dedicated to answering the plight of the nations’ children; however there is only so much they can actually do. The future of the nation is currently facing many horrors, and those responsible for them are either the cause of their worries or simply not qualified to help. The teacher, social workers, police officers, foster homes and parents are failing the future generation with their lack expertises.
It is 2:30pm, the bell rings and everyone packs to leave, they say good byes, with sadden eyes but they still smile, the comfort of a safe environment leaves them as they head home to horrors that await them.