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Trinidad and Tobago: Government services available to minors who have been sexually abused and/or neglected by their parents; availability of legal representation; procedures for obtaining restraining orders; information on laws against rape and incest of minors. (January 2003 - November 2005)

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa
Publication Date 13 December 2005
Citation / Document Symbol TTO100676.E
Reference 2
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Trinidad and Tobago: Government services available to minors who have been sexually abused and/or neglected by their parents; availability of legal representation; procedures for obtaining restraining orders; information on laws against rape and incest of minors. (January 2003 - November 2005), 13 December 2005, TTO100676.E, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/45f1480619.html [accessed 23 October 2014]
Comments Corrected version March 2007
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

The Government of Trinidad and Tobago, referring to the list of issues received by the Committee on the Rights of the Child relating to the consideration of the second periodic report of Trinidad and Tobago, considers violence and abuse of children to be one of the "priorities requiring the most urgent attention" among issues affecting children (Trinidad and Tobago 5 Aug. 2005, 19).

The National Domestic Violence Hotline provided the following statistics on child abuse to the Research Directorate: Between January 2005 and August 2005, "there were one hundred and thirty-five (135) individual child clients ([under] 18 years [of age]), 39% of which were male, and 61% female. The abuse reported by them or on their behalf was distributed as follows:" 71 cases of physical abuse, 126 of emotional abuse, 34 of sexual abuse, 13 of incest, 61 of verbal abuse, 9 of financial abuse, 23 of threats and 64 of isolation/neglect (ibid. 10 Nov. 2005b).

In a telephone interview, the director of the National Family Services Division of the Ministry of Social Development stated that there were no national statistics on child abuse since the Central Statistical Office did not collect such information (ibid. 22 Nov. 2005). She stated that different offices or agencies will have different statistics on the number of child abuse cases reported to them, and one case could be reflected in two sets of statistics (ibid.). In addition, the statistics represent only the cases that have been reported and thus do not present the "entire picture" (ibid.). Statistics on crime rates only up to 1999 could be found on the Central Statistical Office Website and did not specifically address child-related offences (ibid. n.d.c).

According to Dr. David E. Bratt, a pediatrician and regular columnist of a local newspaper, child abuse is common in Trinidad and Tobago (The Trinidad Guardian 10 May 2005; ibid. 4 May 2004; ibid. 13 May 2003). He states "[c]hild abuse is rampant in T&T. It is so common that it is often not seen and has become part of our daily behaviour" (ibid.) and "...our legal system is such that you can kick a baby to death, or can punch them in their stomach, rupture their livers, watch them bleed to death, and be assured that you will get off because of 'extenuating circumstances' " (ibid. 10 May 2005).

The Trinidad & Tobago Express has published articles suggesting that child abuse is a problem (15 May 2005; 3 July 2005; 17 July 2005) and that police investigations are of "poor quality" (13 Nov. 2005). One article reports that Chief of Defence Staff Brigadier Ancil Antoine stated that "[c]hildren are at high risk for suffering physical abuse" (3 July 2005). Child rights activist Gregory Sloane-Seale stated in another article "I think over the last two decades the problem has really mushroomed into what you see now" and "[f]or every story that is found out or reported, there may be ten more. I think things have worsened. I see it practically every day" (Trinidad and Tobago Express 17 July 2005). The article also reports that families often "turn a blind eye" when they have knowledge of child abuse and that the government needs to provide more financial assistance for child abuse programs since most of the shelters are run by non-governmental organizations (ibid.).

Legislative Framework

Subsection 3(1) of the Children's Act, Chap. 46:01, as quoted in the Second periodic report of Trinidad and Tobago to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, addresses the question of child abuse (15 Nov. 2004, Para. 819). It states that

[i]f any person over the age of sixteen years, who has the custody, charge, or care of any child or young person, willfully assaults, ill-treats, neglects, abandons, or exposes the child or young person, or causes or procures the child or young person to be assaulted, ill-treated, neglected, abandoned, or exposed, in a manner likely to cause the child or young person unnecessary suffering or injury to his health (...) that person is liable-

(a) on conviction on indictment, to a fine of ten thousand dollars, or alternatively, or in default of payment of such fine, or in addition thereto, to imprisonment for two years; and

(b) on summary conviction, to a fine of five thousand dollars, or alternatively, or in addition thereto, to imprisonment for six months;

and for the purpose of this section, a parent or other person legally liable to maintain a child or young person shall be deemed to have neglected him in a manner likely to cause injury to his health if, being able to do so, he fails to provide adequate food, clothing, medical aid, or lodging for the child or young person. (Trinidad and Tobago 15 Nov. 2004, Para. 819)

It is important to note, however, that the age requirement of sixteen was changed to eighteen in accordance with Section 4 of the Children (Amendment) Act, 2000 (ibid. 23 Oct. 2000).

Section 4 of the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act states that rape is an indictable offence and is defined as sexual intercourse without consent or where the consent was obtained by threat, by impersonating someone, through "false or fraudulent representations as to the nature of the intercourse" or "by unlawfully detaining the complainant" (ibid. 25 Sept. 2000; Interpol n.d.). The following are other offences that could be considered child sexual abuse under the Sexual Offences Act or the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act:

– Grievous sexual assault (Trinidad and Tobago 25 Sept. 2000, Sec. 5);

– Sexual intercourse with a female under 14 (ibid. 11 Nov. 1986, Sec. 6);

– Sexual intercourse with a female between 14 and 16 (ibid., Sec. 7);

– Sexual intercourse with a male under 16 (ibid., Sec. 8);

– Incest (ibid., Sec. 9);

– Sexual intercourse with an adopted minor, foster child or dependant (ibid., Sec. 10);

– Sexual intercourse with an employed minor (ibid., Sec. 11);

– Buggery (ibid., Sec. 13);

– Indecent assault (ibid., Sec. 15);

– Serious indecency (ibid., Sec. 16);

– abduction of a female (ibid., Sec. 20; Interpol n.d.)

A minor is defined as "a person under eighteen years of age" (Trinidad and Tobago 11 Nov. 1986, Sec. 2).

The Children's Authority has the power to "investigate complaints or reports of mistreatment of children in their homes" as well as to investigate complaints with respect to children in foster care or community residence (ibid. 2 Nov. 2000, Sec. 5(f); ibid. 15 Nov. 2004, Para. 820).

According to the Second periodic report from Trinidad and Tobago to the United Nations (UN) Committee on the Rights of the Child, "[a]lthough parents are not expressly prohibited by law from administering corporal punishment at home, the Children (Amendment) Act, No. 68 of 2000 has set out guiding principles for parents to observe in respect of this issue" (ibid. 15 Nov. 2004, Para. 630). These principles include "the responsibility to guide and direct the child without the use of any cruel, inhuman or humiliating punishment" and "the responsibility to protect the child from unlawful physical violence and all forms of physical or emotional abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse" (ibid. 23 Oct. 2000, Second Schedule, Part B, 4 and 7).

Section 22 of the Domestic Violence Act, 1999 provides that a Court may issue a warrant authorizing a police officer to intervene in a situation of domestic violence to deal with or prevent an injury (ibid. 12 Oct. 1999).

Government Services

The Family Court of Trinidad and Tobago has jurisdiction over child protection matters including "abuse and neglect of children" (ibid. n.d.b accessed 7 Nov. 2005; ibid. 5 Aug. 2005, 22-23). A two-year pilot project to establish a family court was launched in May 2004 within the Port of Spain High Court and the St. George West Magisterial District and employs judges and magistrates with experience and special training in family law (ibid. n.d.b). Catholic News reports that "Public Notice of May 14, 2004 heralded the opening of the Family Court of Trinidad and Tobago. After almost one year of its existence, the Family Court, as a pilot project, is proving to be almost everything its patrons can hope for at a time of crisis" (1 May 2005).

The National Family Services Division and the Probation Division both offer counselling services on issues of child abuse (Trinidad and Tobago 15 Nov. 2004, Para. 854 and 855). Nineteen drop-in centres and two community drop-in centres are operated by the Domestic Violence Unit of the Gender Affairs Division (ibid., Para. 856). "These Centres offer all members of the public, including children, the opportunity to access assistance related to domestic violence, incest, rape, sexual assault, and family disputes within the communities" (ibid.).

The following information was provided in a telephone interview with the Director of the National Family Services Division of the Ministry of Social Development (ibid. 22 Nov. 2005). The Division offers counselling as well as placement services to children subjected to sexual abuse. It has a formal foster care system; however, it is experiencing problems as it does not have enough foster placement homes for the number of children requiring such services. It also works in connection with other agencies; for example, when a child needs to change schools or be referred to a psychologist or psychiatrist. Once a report is made to the Family Services Division, it completes an investigation, arranges for medical examination and if necessary reports to the police. When asked whether they report every case to the police, the Director stated that sometimes Family Services goes directly to the Attorney General's Office to "take over the case when the police [is] lagging." As an example, she mentioned one case of incest in which the police did not want to proceed or get involved as they said it was a private family matter. When asked why the police would not intervene in such a situation, the director stated that it is "a cultural thing with a lack of training of police."

Availability of Legal Representation

The Legal Aid and Advisory Authority was established in 1976 (Trinidad and Tobago n.d.a). Legal Aid is provided for family matters including those listed under the Domestic Violence Act, 1999 (ibid.). According to the Ministry of Legal Affairs' Website, "juveniles (...) automatically qualify for Legal Aid" (ibid.). Specific information as to the availability of legal representation for minors could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

Procedures for obtaining a restraining order

Part II of the Domestic Violence Act, 1999 provides for protection orders (ibid. 12 Oct. 1999). The Court will order a Protection Order when the respondent has engaged or is likely to engage in domestic violence (ibid., Sec. 5(2)). Domestic violence is defined as including "physical, sexual, emotional or psychological or financial abuse committed by a person against a spouse, child, any other person who is a member of the household or dependant" (ibid., Sec. 3). A child may apply for a Protection Order (ibid., Sec. 4(2)(c)). Specifically, Section 4 states:

(2) An application for a Protection Order may be made by (...) (c) a child – (i) by consanguinity or affinity of either spouse or respondent; (ii) of whom either the spouse or respondent is a guardian; or (iii) who is or has been a member of the household of the spouse or the respondent;

[...]

(3) A child or dependant may apply for a Protection Order through – (a) a person with whom the child or dependant normally resides or resides with on a regular basis or any adult member of his household; or (b) a parent or guardian or, a person who is in loco parentis to the child (ibid., Sec.4).

A social worker, a probation officer or a police officer may also make an application on behalf of a child (ibid., Sec. 4(4)). Section 7 also indicates that the welfare of any child must be taken into consideration by the Court when determining what conditions to impose in the Protection Order (ibid., Sec. 7). Form 1, found in the second schedule of the Domestic Violence Act, 1999 is the Application for a Protection Order (see attached) which has to be filed with the Clerk or Deputy Clerk of the Court of Summary Jurisdiction (ibid., Second Schedule). Pursuant to Section 11, the Clerk fixes the date of hearing no more than seven days after the Application is filed (ibid., Sec. 11). A notice of proceedings must then be filed in accordance with Section 12 (ibid., Sec. 12). The parent or guardian of a child must be notified when the Application is filed in respect of that child (ibid.). If a Protection Order is made by the Court, it is drawn up on the prescribed form (Form 4, second schedule, see attached) (ibid., Sec. 16).

Support systems for minors

In a 9 November 2005 telephone conversation with the Research Directorate, an official at the Rape Crisis Society (RCS) in Trinidad and Tobago advised that they provided counselling for minors who were victims of incest or sexual abuse. She also mentioned that a child victim of incest or sexual abuse can call ChildLine, a helpline created by the Coalition Against Domestic Violence for children, for support (RCS 9 Nov. 2005). The official also noted that social workers working for the Ministry of Social Development can also be of assistance to children in these circumstances (ibid.).

The President of the Board of Management of the RCS provided the following information on 14 November 2005 in a second telephone interview. The RCS usually gets referrals regarding child abuse from the school system or from parents. The RCS does not have authority to take the child out of the home in a situation of child abuse or incest, as this function lies within the responsibilities of the police authorities or the Family Services Unit of the Ministry of Social Development. The RCS can refer a child to a shelter; however, this is done only at the request of the parent or guardian as no counsellor can demand that a child be removed from his home. The Family Court deals with matters involving children; procedures for cases are dealt with in camera, and social workers are available to the child and family.

The following information was provided by the supervisor of ChildLine, operated by the Coalition Against Domestic Violence, in a 10 November 2005 telephone interview. Children victims of sexual abuse or incest can call this helpline in a confidential manner and talk to someone about their problems. Listeners are trained specifically for this kind of work. Once they have earned the child's trust, they will ask the child for the name of their school and the name of their teacher. With the consent of the child, they will contact the child's teacher and report the situation to them. Teachers are required to report all incidences of sexual abuse. (This requirement is corroborated in Section 31 of the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act, 2000 [Trinidad and Tobago 25 Sept. 2000].). ChildLine will follow up with the child; however, their role will remain one of counselling and support for the child. They do not have the power to intervene, i.e. they cannot take the child out of the home. ChildLine has found counselling and support to be the most effective way to proceed in cases of child abuse or incest. They do not report to police officials as they say police officers are not trained to deal with such issues and because once notified, a police officer would go to the home and speak with the family, which would make matters worse in a case of incest.

According to the Second periodic report of Trinidad and Tobago to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, "[t]he Domestic Violence Unit of the Gender Affairs Division operates a 24-hour toll free Domestic Violence Hotline. This hotline is confidential and acts as a referral service for victims of domestic violence" (Trinidad and Tobago 15 Nov. 2004, Para. 847). This report also states that "[o]fficers of the Community Policing Section provide counselling for juveniles and children on domestic violence and abuse" and "[c]ounselling is provided for children in schools through the Guidance Unit of the Ministry of Education" (ibid., Paras. 857 and 858). The existence of the hotline was corroborated on the Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action (CAFRA)'s Website (18 Dec. 2002).

According to the Report on the Youth Forum and on the Caribbean Regional Consultation on the UN Secretary General Study on Violence Against Children, the following is a partial list of shelters for children in Trinidad and Tobago: Rainbow Rescue, Sodria House, Marian House and Credo (31 March 2005). Rainbow Rescue operates in Belmont (The Trinidad Guardian 5 June 2003; Trinidad and Tobago Express 4 March 2005) while Marian House (Living Water Community n.d.) and Credo (Trinidad and Tobago Express 2 March 2005) are located in Port of Spain. The United Nations Association of Trinidad & Tobago also makes mention of the following: the Jaya Lakshmi Children's Home, the St. Dominic's Home for Children, The Syphil Home in Love and the Hope Centre for Neglected and Abused Children (World Federation of United Nations n.d.) located in San Fernando (The Trinidad Guardian 17 June 2005).

Families in Action is another support system for children victims of sexual abuse or incest (Families in Action n.d.). Although it was initially founded to address the problem of drug addiction, it now offers a support group that deals with problems arising from abuse, as well as counselling and a 24-hour hotline (ibid.; Trinidad and Tobago 15 Nov. 2004, Para. 531).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

References

Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action (CAFRA). 18 December 2002. "NGOs to T&T Government." [Accessed 18 Nov. 2005]

Catholic News. 1 May 2005. Maraika Gooding. "Taking Family Matters to Court." [Accessed 18 Nov. 2005]

ChildLine. 10 November 2005. Telephone interview with Supervisor.

ChildLine. N.d. "What is ChildLine?" Trinidad and Tobago Coalition Against Domestic Violence. National Library and Information System Authority of Trinidad and Tobago Website. [Accessed 7 Nov. 2005]

Families in Action. N.d. "Families in Action." [Accessed 9 Nov. 2005]

International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD). N.d. "Rape Crisis Society of Trinidad and Tobago, Trinidad." [Accessed 7 Nov. 2005]

Interpol. N.d. "Legislation of Interpol Member States on Sexual Offences Against Children: Trinidad & Tobago." [Accessed 7 Nov. 2005]

Living Water Community. N.d. "All God's Work." [Accessed 23 Nov. 2005]

Rape Crisis Society. 14 November 2005. Telephone interview with the President of the Board of Management.

Rape Crisis Society. 9 November 2005. Telephone interview with an Administrative Officer.

Trinidad and Tobago. 22 November 2005. Ministry of Social Development. National Family Services Division. Telephone interview with Director.
_____. 10 November 2005a. Ministry of Community Development, Culture and Gender Affairs. Domestic Violence Unit. Telephone interview with an official.
_____. 10 November 2005b. Ministry of Community Development, Culture and Gender Affairs. Correspondence from an official.
_____. 10 November 2005c. Office of the Parliament. Correspondence from a Senior Parliamentary Librarian.
_____. 10 November 2005d. Office of the Parliament. Telephone interview with a Senior Parliamentary Librarian.
_____. 10 November 2005e. Central Statistical Office. Correspondence from Publications and Information Officer.
_____. 5 August 2005. In United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. Written Replies by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago Concerning the List of Issues (CRC/C/Q/TRI/2) Received by the Committee on the Rights of the Child Relating to the Consideration of the Second Periodic Report of Trinidad and Tobago (CRC/C/83/add.12). (CRC/C/RESP/92). [Accesssed 9 Nov. 2005
_____. 15 November 2004. In United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties under Article 44 of the Convention. Second Periodic Reports of States Parties due in 1999. (CRC/C/83/Add.12). [Accessed 9 Nov. 2005]
_____. 19 March 2003. Children's Authority (Amendment) Act, 2003. [Accessed 9 Nov. 2005]
_____. 2 November 2000. Children's Authority Act, 2000. [Accessed 9 Nov. 2005]
_____. 23 October 2000. Children (Amendment) Act, 2000. [Accessed 9 Nov. 2005]
_____. 25 September 2000. Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act, 2000. [Accessed 9 Nov. 2005]
_____. 12 October 1999. Domestic Violence Act, 1999. [Accessed 9 Nov. 2005]
_____. 11 November 1986. Sexual Offences Act, 1986. [Received from Senior Librarian of Parliament on 10 Nov. 2005]
_____. N.d.a. Ministry of Legal Affairs. Legal Aid & Advisory Authority. "What You Should Know about Legal Aid & Advisory Authority." [Accessed 14 Nov. 2005]
_____. N.d.b. Judiciary. "Family Court of Trinidad and Tobago." [Accessed 7 Nov. 2005]
_____. N.d.c. Central Statistical Office. "Number of Serious Crimes by Cases Reported, Cases Detected, Persons Arrested and Persons Convicted, 1999." [Accessed 13 Dec. 2005]

Trinidad & Tobago Express [Port of Spain]. 13 November 2005. Camini Marajh. "Police Accused of Poor Investigation: The Akiel Chambers Diary." [Accessed 15 Nov. 2005]
_____. 17 July 2005. Cedriann J Martin. "Sizing Up the Issue: Child Sexual Abuse in T&T-Confronting the Monster." [Accessed 15 Nov. 2005]
_____. 3 July 2005. Rohandra John. "Time to Revisit Abuse, says Brigadier." [Accessed 15 Nov. 2005]
_____. 15 May 2005. Hayden Mills. "Akiel Memorial Trust Fund to be Launched." [Accessed 15 Nov. 2005]
_____. 4 March 2005. Anna Ramdass. "Govt Subvention to Aid Street Children." [Accessed 23 Nov. 2005]
_____. 2 March 2005. Anna Ramdass. "Giving $$ to Street Children Makes Addicts of Them." [Accessed 23 Nov. 2005]

The Trinidad Guardian [Port of Spain].17 June 2005. "Hope Centre Builds More Modern Kitchen." [Accessed 15 Nov. 2005]
_____. 10 May 2005. Dr. David E. Bratt. "Abuse of the Children." [Accessed 7 Nov. 2005]
_____. 4 May 2004. Dr. David E. Bratt. "Torture is Abuse Too." [Accessed 7 Nov. 2005]
_____. 5 June 2003. Shirvan Williams. "Rainbow Home in Need of Rescue." [Accessed 23 Nov. 2005]
_____. 13 May 2003. Dr. David E. Bratt. "Scars That Don't Heal." [Accessed 7 Nov. 2005]

United Nations (UN). 31 March 2005. United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). Report on the Youth Forum and on the Caribbean Regional Consultation on the UN Secretary General Study on Violence Against Children. [Accessed 9 Nov. 2005]

World Federation of United Nations Associations (WFUNA). N.d. "United Nations Association of Trinidad & Tobago: Recent Activities." [Accessed 15 Nov. 2005]

Attachments

Trinidad and Tobago. 12 October 1999. Domestic Violence Act, 1999. [Accessed 9 Nov. 2005], Form 1, p. 29 (or 215??).

Trinidad and Tobago. 12 October 1999. Domestic Violence Act, 1999. [Accessed 9 Nov. 2005], Form 4, p. 32 (or 318??).

Additional Sources Consulted

Oral Sources:

Attempts to contact the Ministry of the Attorney General of Trinidad and Tobago were unsuccessful.

Attempts to contact the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service were unsuccessful.

Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action (CAFRA) had no information on this topic.

Internet sites, including:

Centre for Gender and Development Studies at the University of West Indies, Child Helpline International, Child Rights Information Network (CRIN), Friday Mirror, Government of Trinidad and Tobago, Inter-American Commission of Women, Ministry of Community Development, Culture and Gender Affairs of Trinidad and Tobago, Ministry of Social Development of Trinidad and Tobago, Sunday Mirror, Tobago News, Trinidad & Tobago's Newsday, United Nations Development Fund for Women, United Nations Development Programme, United Nations Inter-Agency Campaign on Women's Human Rights in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at http://www.irb-cisr.gc.ca/en/. Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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