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Chairman of the Children’s Authority Hanif Benjamin

As the stresses of COVID-19 continue to bear on many, former Children’s Authority chairman Hanif Benjamin is making a demand for corporal punishment, even at the hands of parents, to be made illegal in this country.

During an interview with Guardian Media, Benjamin said the beating of children, or licks as we see in local parlance, was something T&T must eradicate.

“Everybody who knows me knows my stance, I think corporal punishment should be outlawed, period. Nobody should be beaten, we are not donkeys, goats or dogs and even those animals should not be beaten as well,” Benjamin said.

He explained that there is a thin line between discipline and abuse, adding parents should take a time-out before treating issues regarding children.

“If you have to beat someone to understand to learn or to grow, then something is wrong with you as an adult,” he said.

Benjamin argued that even the way the law is structured currently leaves room for misinterpretation. As it stands right now, the law allows parents to use corporal punishment to discipline a child within reason. But Benjamin questions the meaning of “within reason”.

“I think it is ambiguous and it needs to be removed,” he said, noting most countries are moving in that direction

He admitted, however, that parents need help because many times they are frustrated for one reason or the other.

Noting the shockingly high number of domestic violence cases in the country, the clinical therapist said he believes there is a link.

“You can’t come and talk nonsense now about domestic violence and how man beating woman and all of thee things that going on and not consider you beating children, what you teaching the child?”

He said as a society we had created a circle of violence. Some of this violence he had seen reports of first hand at the Children’s Authority. He said the authority was overwhelmed from its inception in 2015, as it was organised to handle 1,200 cases per year but received 5,000 in the first nine months. These high rates continue.

Benjamin, a traumatologist said, “This speaks to who we are as a people and why children are being abused at such an alarming rate.”

He said while there were many issues that needed to be fixed and what bothered him most was the bottleneck of cases.

“There were too many cases untouched, there were too many cases in limbo,” he said, adding when he left earlier this year the authority had over 25,000 cases.

To help with this, the authority formed several assessment centres across the country with the help of Minister Ayanna Webster-Roy but this just wasn’t enough, he said.

He said when he left the authority they were developing a specialised unit just to deal with the backlog of cases which would have included specialised social workers.

“I am praying to God that they get that unit,” he said.

He said some of the cases he heard while at the authority were disturbing.

“We have cried, I have cried listening to some of these stories,” he said.

“What makes it even harder to stomach is not just being abused but there is something unholy about being abused by people who have been charged with the responsibility to protect and care for you.”

He said this is why he was always so passionate and some mistook it for anger.

“We have sick people, people are sick in their mind.”

In addition to that fact, he said the authority’s annual reports will show “the greater number of persons abusing children were their biological parents, mothers to be exact.”

Benjamin said another great challenge was that a lot of the systems surrounding the Children’s Authority are non-functional. He said the authority was never designed to operate alone but alongside other state and private agencies, but often had to do things it was not mandated by law to do.

He said it also had to do a lot of preventative work, for instance, getting into the homes.

“So you had to change your strategy to help people understand why they are abusing children and how might they stop because some of them were just sheer ignorance of the law.”