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Trinidad and Tobago: Update to TTO41519.E of 2 May 2003 on domestic violence, including police response to complaints (May 2003-2004)

Publisher Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada
Publication Date 25 May 2004
Citation / Document Symbol TTO42713.E
Reference 2
Cite as Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Trinidad and Tobago: Update to TTO41519.E of 2 May 2003 on domestic violence, including police response to complaints (May 2003-2004), 25 May 2004, TTO42713.E, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/41501c647.html [accessed 16 April 2014]
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.

A representative of the Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action (CAFRA), an NGO based in Tunapuna, Trinidad and Tobago, provided the following information in a 14 May 2004 telephone interview. Since April 2003, although youth gang and drug-related violence have overshadowed domestic violence in Trinidad and Tobago, the situation of violence against women has continued at the same pace. Legislatively, in 2003 the Family Court engaged in a pilot project that covered a wide range of family law matters such as divorce and separation, however, this reform initiative did not touch upon the issue of domestic violence.

Police have improved in their response to domestic violence complaints in the sense that police were increasingly talking to the man involved in a domestic dispute and making an effort to calm him down, whereas in the past the police were hesitant to get involved. However, there was a setback in 2003 as community police units that had been created to handle domestic violence situations were replaced by lone community police officers posted at different stations. The problem with this change was that when the officer was on break or at lunch, there was no one at the station to respond to a domestic violence situation.

Throughout 2003 and into 2004, advocacy groups carried out training sessions around domestic violence for social service providers and the police. In addition, NGOs created a lot of public awareness on domestic violence issues. One example was the production of a television show that enacted a scene of domestic violence and afterwards a social worker would speak about the incident in order to educate people about the issue.

In 18 May 2004 correspondence, the Chair of the Coalition Against Domestic Violence (CADV) provided the following information. The CADV is made up of 36 members, including church, community, and shelter groups. With regard to the situation of domestic violence since April 2003 until May 2004, the situation appears to be about the same or a little worse. Given that the Community Policing Unit was disbanded in 2003, police response has been less effective and there have been fewer cases reported. In addition, many counsellors working for the national government's hotline service have quit and replacements have not been hired. As of 18 May 2004, there were only four employees left to service a 24-hour hotline for the entire country.

During an April 2004 seminar entitled Fostering Healthy Lifestyles, sponsored by the Hindu Women's Organization in collaboration with the Canadian High Commission, Independent Senator and attorney, Dana Seetahal rejected the current suggestion that there has been an increase in domestic violence in the country (Trinidad and Tobago Express 19 Apr. 2004). Reflecting on past personal experience, Seetahal explained that when she was child, over thirty years ago, "domestic violence was the order of the day" (ibid.). In her April 2004 speech, Seetahal acknowledged that women in Trinidad and Tobago now have legal options to cope with this problem (ibid.). Nevertheless, Seetahal claimed that domestic violence legislation has done little to help victims because tradition still dictates that women remain silent in the face of abuse, especially within Hindu families (ibid.).

In an April 2004 news story, the BBC reported that since the enactment of the Domestic Violence Act in 1991 (UN 27 Feb. 2003), the police have been empowered to address domestic violence complaints (BBC 8 Apr. 2004). According to Dr. Jillian Ballantyne, a clinical psychologist, more women are reporting domestic violence and "the police now take the reports much more seriously and investigate claims much more thoroughly" (ibid.). In addition, Dr. Ballantyne noted that women who were better educated and of higher social status were least likely to report domestic violence as opposed to working class women, mainly because the women of higher standing would feel embarrassed about being in such a situation (ibid.).

According to a December 2003 news report, the local Court of Appeal voiced its concern over the situation of domestic violence in Trinidad, stating that it was "much worse locally than in England" (Trinidad and Tobago's Newsday 17 Dec. 2003). Justices Lionel Jones, Margot Warner and Wendell Kangaloo made this statement during the appeal of a local man who had killed his wife, mother and sister-in-law, and was subsequently found guilty and sentenced to death by a local court (ibid.). However, in an appeal, the Law Lords of the Privy Council reduced the murder conviction to manslaughter and remitted the sentencing to the local Court of Appeal (ibid.).

Country Reports 2003 stated that the police response was enhanced by the introduction of a community police division, however, "some police officers were reportedly unsympathetic or reluctant to pursue such cases, resulting in underreporting of crimes of violence against women" (25 Feb. 2004). A 24-hour hotline that received calls from victims of violence against women such as domestic violence received about 2,698 calls from January to September 2003, yet, Country Reports 2003 noted that 1,182 of these calls were pranks (ibid.). According to Freedom of the World 2003, violence against women in Trinidad and Tobago was widespread, still, police and prosecutors continued to view this issue as a low priority (Freedom House 18 June 2003).

According to the national government's legislative agenda for 2003-2004 that appeared on the Ministry of the Attorney General's Website, an amendment to the Firearms Bill would among other things disqualify domestic violence perpetrators from possessing a firearm for five years from the judgment date (Trinidad and Tobago 2003-2004). Information on whether this bill was passed could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

The Shelter, a local NGO that has been providing a refuge for victims of domestic violence since 1987, has listed contact numbers on where to get help in Trinidad and Tobago on its Website (The Shelter 8 Nov. 2002). The first is the national government-sponsored 24-hour Domestic Violence Hotline 800-SAVE, which according to the Website cannot be dialled from a pay phone (ibid.). The Families in Action Hotline is also a 24-hour service and the telephone number is 628-2333 (ibid.). Finally, the Website lists various telephone numbers of community police officers especially trained to address situations of domestic violence in 13 municipalities across the country (ibid.).

Please see the entry for Trinidad and Tobago of the 27 February 2003 UN Special Rapporteur report on violence against women for a background summary of the country's legislation, policies and programmes addressing domestic violence at: .

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

BBC Caribbean. 8 April 2004. "Domestic Violence a Big Caribbean Problem." [Accessed 13 May 2004]

Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action (CAFRA), Tunapuna. 14 May 2004. Telephone interview with representative.

Coalition Against Domestic Violence (CADV), Port-of-Spain. 18 May 2004. Correspondence from Chair.

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2003. 25 February 2004. "Trinidad and Tobago." United States, Department of State. Washington DC. [Accessed 12 May 2004]

Freedom House. 18 June 2003. Freedom in the World 2003. "Trinidad and Tobago." [Accessed 12 May 2004]

The Shelter. 8 November 2002. "Where to Find Help in T&T?" [Accessed 12 May 2004]

Trinidad and Tobago. 2003-2004. Ministry of the Attorney General. "The Firearms (Amendment) Bill, 2003." [Accessed 12 May 2004]

Trinidad & Tobago Express [Port-of-Spain]. 19 April 2004. Phoolo Danny-Maharaj. "'Plenty Licks in the Good Old Days Too'." [Accessed 12 May 2004]

Trinidad and Tobago's Newsday [Port-of-Spain]. 17 December 2003. Theron Boodan. "Appeal Court Lashes Violence Against Women." [Accessed 12 May 2004]

United Nations (UN). 27 February 2003. Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). International, Regional and National Developments In the Area of Violence against Women 1994-2003. Report of the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, its Causes and Consequences, Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy, Submitted in Accordance With Commission on Human Rights 2002/52 Addendum 1. (E/CN.4/2003/75/Add1) [Accessed 12 May 2004]

Additional Sources Consulted

The Domestic Violence Unit of the Ministry of Community Development and Gender Affairs did not respond to information requested within time constraints.

Internet sites: Amnesty International, Freedom House, Human Rights Internet, Human Rights Watch, Inter-American Commission of Women, Justice Studies Center of the Americas, Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defence of Women's Rights (CLADEM), United Nations Women Watch, World News Connection/Dialog.

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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