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Dr Varma Deyalsingh.

RADHICA DE SILVA

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Independent Senator Dr Varma Deyalsingh says Trinidad and Tobago has seen a startling increase in domestic violence, child abuse and poverty because of COVID-19.

Speaking exclusively to Guardian Media yesterday following a recent spike in cases of child sexual abuse, Deyalsingh said an urgent intervention was needed to assist children, many of whom were crying out for help.

“Parents are having problems and some are wondering where are they going to get their next meal to feed their children and they lash out more on children. We need social services to reach out to these parents and get that support to the parents so they will not be taking that burden out on their children,” Deyalsingh said.

He also noted that migrant children were also on the receiving end and it was important to develop programmes to reach these children, many of whom may suffer post-traumatic stress disorder later on in life.

Deyalsingh also lamented the length of time it takes for court cases to be wrapped up. In some cases, he noted, matters may take as long as ten years and Deyalsingh said abused children are forced to relive the trauma they suffered for years.

“From 2015 to 2018, there were 14,581 cases that the Children’s Authority spoke about and only two per cent had a conviction rate. So somehow, we are failing in the judicial system to have speedy trials and the children have to go back and relive this so I’m thinking this is unfair to the children,” Deyalsingh said.

He said abused children have used the school system as an outlet to vent their frustration but with the education system being forced to go to online teaching platforms due to COVID-19, that is no longer a place where students can find refuge or release their frustration.

Deyalsingh said a study done on school violence in 2008 by Dr Daphne Phillips revealed that 40 per cent of those students committing violent acts were sexually abused, 30 per cent of the school violence perpetrators were poor, 15 per cent suffered physical abuse, 10 per cent suffered neglect and five per cent suffered verbal abuse.

“A child acting out is a child who is reaching out for help, crying out for help and this something we have to understand,” he added.

He also noted that a study done in 2014 showed that 1.3 per cent out of 3,500 children between the ages of 15 to 21 were living with HIV.

“We see the young girls between 15 and 25 are the greatest risk group for HIV, so we know that the issue of child abuse is prevalent,” Deyalsingh said.

He also said teenage pregnancies have not subsided and this too was a clear indication that children desperately needed help.

Urging the Government to develop intervention programmes to target abused children and their families, Deyalsingh said in some cases the abusers suffered from mental illness or depression, or may have been abused themselves.

Saying the cycle of molestation must be stopped, he said the Government could start new drives to encourage upstanding citizens to adopt a family. He said the parents and relatives of abused children must be given training in parenting so that they could assist in the healing process. He also said the adoption of children could be facilitated more efficiently and speedily, as there were many couples financially independent who wanted to adopt children. He also said all parents must be educated about the responsibility they have towards their children to ensure they are in a safe comfortable environment.

While legislative changes were welcomed, Deyalsingh said more could be done to protect children in T&T because the epidemic of child abuse has been continuing in T&T for far too long.

There have been three reports of child sexual abuse for this week alone. On Monday, a man was arrested and charged by police after he took three girls, aged six, 10 and 12, to a river where he molested the youngest. A 63-year-old grandfather was also charged with molesting his 12-year-old granddaughter.

Minister of Gender and Child Affairs Ayanna Webster-Roy has called on citizens to report incidents of abuse. She said victims of abuse may become abusers themselves, stating that everyone has a responsibility to fulfil children’s rights and ensure that the lives of children are free from abuse.

Anyone wanting to report abuse or get assistance can contact the Hotline 996, 800-2014 or Children’s Authority at 627-0748.