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President of the International Women’s Resource Network Adriana Sandrine Rattan.

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Eight out of ten young girls under the age of ten, in this country, have their rights violated by the persons closest to them.

This was revealed by the director of the International Women’s Resource Network (IWRN), Adriana Sandrine-Rattan, as the world celebrated International Day of the Girl Child yesterday.

In a telephone interview with Sandrine-Rattan, her response was a resounding no when asked if T&T was making great strides in ensuring protection and an equal future for girls in this country.

Sandrine-Rattan said the IWRN which worked closely with the Child Protection Unit—a division within the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS), got reports daily of victims and nine out of ten times the perpetrators were their fathers or stepfathers.

She added a more disturbing detail, saying nine out of ten times, these acts and cover-ups of these acts where being encouraged by mothers.

Additionally, Sandrine-Rattan said girls and children on a whole also often became collateral damage—caught in the middle of their parents’ disagreements and wars. She noted there were also instances where the child was asked by one parent to lie about the other parent.

She explained, “We have a lot of incidences where young girls are being suppressed and I am saying young girls meaning under the age of 15, are still being used as collateral damage between parents who have differences and in these instances, the child is suffering.”

Pointing to a current case the network was overseeing in central Trinidad, Sandrine-Rattan said, when that child is in that kind of vulnerable position and it reaches to the police, the child was then removed from the home, taken away from both parents.

“So we are saying we have not been strides and we will not make strides if we do not understand that children are our future,” Sandrine-Rattan argued.

She said the Children’s Authority—the overarching body in Trinidad and Tobago with the mandate to ensure the rights and protection of children, was doing good work, but there was a need for the business model of the organisation to be reconfigured making it an entity embracing of all aspects of children’s issues.

“I know they have been trying to do that, but it has to be done from a state perspective, where the organisation needs to be reconfigured to deal with the issues more dispassionately,” advised Sandrine-Rattan.

She said, a lot was being covered up and her network discovered this every day being in the field.

She noted because children did not have a voice they remain extremely vulnerable in extenuating circumstances.

Sandrine-Rattan said it was time, society listened to children.

She said listen to what they were saying loudly and to what they were saying silently.

She reckoned, “That’s the only way we can build a new start in terms of recreating safe spaces for our young girls.”

Meanwhile, Gabrielle Hosein, head of the Institute for Gender and Development Studies at the University of the West Indies (UWI) St Augustine Campus, agreed sexual abuse remained a key vulnerability, among girls in T&T despite strides made in the sphere of education.

In an email interview, she said this vulnerability was one that affected hundreds of girls each year, signalling the extent to which many girls were growing up in unsafe homes and communities.

This was evident she pointed out with the continued high rates of pregnancy occurring under the age of 19, with nearly 400 births in 2018—many for much older men.

“We have to continue to imagine a different world for girls, one that is safe for them as children, one that provides access to information they need to make healthy decisions about their bodies and lives, one which isn’t characterised by severe inequalities among girls, and one in which they can expect equal access to income security, political leadership and shared responsibility for care as they grow,” Hosein advocated.

She said the society should use such observances as International Day of the Girl Child to celebrate the ways that girls were leading social movements for gender justice and climate justice across the region, and playing important roles in their communities.