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Trinidad & Tobago: Child sex abuse rampant

Publish Date: 22 May 2011
Source: Newsday
By: Carol Matroo

Child sexual abuse is a form of child abuse in which an adult or older adolescent uses a child for sexual stimulation.

Forms of child sexual abuse include asking or pressuring a child to engage in sexual activities, indecent exposure of the genitals to a child, displaying pornography to a child, actual sexual contact against a child, physical contact with the child’s genitals, viewing the child’s genitalia for the purpose of sexual gratification or using a child to produce child pornography.

Child sexual abuse has extreme psychological and physical consequences for children, and can cause the victim to suffer from depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety.

Sexual abuse by a family member is a form of incest, and can result in more serious and long-term psychological trauma, especially in the case of parental incest.

However, the dark side of this criminal behaviour is still to be systematically addressed. That is, the victims and their confidantes most times do not report this matter as its gravity and implications are not thoroughly understood.

This was found after a study on Social Norms and Values was conducted by the Psychological Research Centre at the University of the West Indies in St Augustine, for the Ministry of the People and Social Development.

The study, supervised by Dr Derek Chadee, senior lecturer in the Department of Behavioural Sciences at UWI and manager of the Psychological Research Centre, questioned people of various ages, sex, educational backgrounds and incomes on various aspects about child sexual abuse.

Overall, 87 per cent of all age groups stated that child sexual abuse was prevalent or very prevalent in Trinidad and Tobago, while one per cent said it was “not prevalent at all” and two per cent said they did not know.

The study found that there was a high consensus among respondents in thinking that the sexual abuse of children is prevalent in Trinidad and Tobago. Less than ten percent of respondents believed that child sexual abuse was not very prevalent, and a mere one percent of respondents believed that it was not prevalent at all.

Although percentages were high for both groups, females were ten percent more likely than males to think that child sexual abuse was prevalent, the study found.

Respondents from all educational levels unanimously responded by stating that child sexual abuse was prevalent. In examining age, although percentages were high across all groups, older persons were more likely than younger persons to believe that child sexual abuse was prevalent. There was consensus among monthly income groups for stating that child sexual abuse was prevalent in Trinidad and Tobago.

It was found that an overwhelming majority of respondents said that they were likely to report an act of child sexual abuse if the victim was someone in their immediate family. A mere four per cent of respondents said they were unlikely to do this.

The majority of respondents said that they were likely to report an act of child sexual abuse if the victim was someone in their neighbour’s family. Less than 20 percent said that they were unlikely to do this.

There were also similar results for both males and females. With regards to education, it was observed that tertiary educated persons claimed to have a greater tendency to report an incidence of child sexual abuse if the victim was part of a neighbour’s family. No major differences were observed across age groups.

Contacted by the Sunday Newsday, Minister of the People and Social Development, Dr Glenn Ramadharsingh, said while he had received the report on the study, he had not had the time to closely study it in its entirety. He also admitted that there were not enough “specialised” psychologists and psychiatrists to draw information from the young victims.

“With regard to child sexual abuse, we know it exists because our Family Services Division picks up cases, sad cases, very unnerving cases and we partner with the police immediately and we have a lot of co-operation from the community police,” Ramadharsingh said.

“Sexual child abuse is under-reported and we know that. There is a lot of confusion, there is umbrage to the person’s self-esteem, there’s confusion, there are psychological and psychiatric problems. These things cause a lot of harm in society.”

He added, “Even eliciting information from a child, whether they were abused or not, this requires specialised people to get the information out.”

Referring to the Children’s Authority, which the minister said came in a piece- meal manner over the course of eight years, Ramadharsingh said his ministry was trying to get the authority up and running.

Using as an example television shows where psychologists use different techniques for drawing out information, Ramadharsingh said this was the level of skill his ministry wanted to recruit for the Children’s Authority

“We intend to proclaim the legislation, but we are trying to operationalise the authority right now. We want a board that has been appointed by the President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, so we have that independence that would do it’s work despite ... because remember in the Akiel Chambers case, it was alleged that a wealthy person was involved and suppressed investigations,” he said.

“We have gotten a consultancy done for standards, the authority will operate within international standards because you want to treat this issue as first world countries do. The authority has found a home and we have assisted them to repair the building and outfit it and they should be fully operational within a year.”

Ramadharsingh said the authority was what the country needed and said his ministry was working with the present board, which was set up almost two years ago.

“We don’t have a near-perfect system. There is a lot of work to do. We have investigated allegations even at homes and those are not comprehensive investigations, they were just to guide us. Cabinet has approved monitoring officers for homes under investigation. There is a lot of work to do as best as we can, as fast as we can,” the minister said.

Ramadharsingh said his ministry was closely looking at morality and how social structure was changing, adding they had to respond to changes in the society.

“You’re studying the shifts that take place in the society and you respond to them and so your policies tend to be modified and changed and shifted to suit what is happening in the society,” he said.

He said his ministry also worked along with Outreach, a non-governmental organisation involved in various activities, including rights of the child. The minister said the Children’s Bill, under scrutiny for the past two months by the Legislative Review Council, hopefully would be laid in Parliament within the next two months.

“That is the way we have confronted the issue and we remain open to the public. There is also the Child Line (800-4321). Child Line is an NGO and we quadrupled their resources and they are now a 24/7 hotline. We’ve asked the Ministry of Education to roll this out in the schools in the absence of our formal campaign, which will come in time,” Ramadharsingh assured.

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