COMMITTEE ON RIGHTS OF CHILD CONSIDERS REPORT OF TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO

Committee on the
Rights of the Child

16 January 2006

(Chamber B)

The Committee on the Rights of the Child today considered the second periodic report of Trinidad and Tobago on how that country is implementing the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Introducing the report was Glenda Morean-Phillip, High Commissioner of Trinidad and Tobago to the United Kingdom, who said that in keeping with Trinidad and Tobago’s ratification of the Convention, coupled with its signing of the World Declaration for the Survival, Protection and Development of Children in 1990, various strides had been made in the introduction and implementation of measures to safeguard and promote the rights of children. The country had embarked on a number of projects, with an emphasis being placed on social sector reform, improving the education system and the health sector, and making justice accessible and affordable, while at the same time working to alleviate poverty.

In preliminary remarks, Committee Expert Kamel Filali, who served as country Rapporteur for the report of Trinidad and Tobago, said the Government of Trinidad and Tobago had embarked on a process of harmonizing its legislation in line with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was to be commended. The Committee noted the existence of political factors which explained the slowing down of the promulgation of various acts. Among other things, there was a need for an intensification of programmes to combat poverty and improve the social welfare system.

Other Committee Experts contributed to the debate by raising questions pertaining to the Family Court Committee and Office of the Ombudsperson in Trinidad and Tobago; corporal punishment, violence against children and domestic violence; poverty reduction; children in alternative care institutions; children with disabilities; children living with HIV/AIDS; child labour; street children; the sexual exploitation of children; and juvenile justice.

The Committee will release its formal, written concluding observations and recommendations on the report of Trinidad and Tobago towards the end of its three-week session which will conclude on 27 January.

The delegation of Trinidad and Tobago was made up of representatives of the Office of the High Commissioner of Trinidad and Tobago to the United Kingdom, the Ministry of Social Development and Social Services Delivery, the Ministry of the Attorney General, and the Permanent Mission of Trinidad and Tobago to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

As one of the 192 States parties to the Convention, Trinidad and Tobago is obliged to present periodic reports to the Committee on its efforts to comply with the provisions of the treaty. The delegation was on hand during the day to present the report and answer questions raised by Committee Experts.

The Committee will reconvene in plenary at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 17 January when it will hold an informal meeting with State parties to the Convention. When Chamber B of the Committee reconvenes at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 18 January, it will take up the second periodic report of Lithuania (CRC/C/83/Add.14).

Report of Trinidad and Tobago

The second periodic report of Trinidad and Tobago (CRC/C/83/Add.12) notes that the Convention on the Rights of the Child entered into force in Trinidad and Tobago in January 1992. In 1998, the Government appointed an inter-ministerial Committee (comprising representatives of the Ministry of the Attorney General and the Ministry of Social Development) to examine and review the existing laws relating to children and to prepare a comprehensive package of legislation to bring the national legislation into conformity with the provisions of the Convention. The package was enacted by Parliament in October 2000. The Children's Authority of Trinidad and Tobago is responsible for, among other things, investigating complaints of staff, children and parents of children with respect to any child who is in the care of a community residence, foster home or nursery. A National Plan of Action and associated committee were also established to monitor the implementation of the Convention.

Every person under the age of 18, born in Trinidad and Tobago, or born to, or adopted by, parents who are citizens of the country is a child and is subject to care and protection under the law, the report states. The Ministry of Social Development is the governmental body with overall responsibility for children's affairs in Trinidad and Tobago and has initiated a number of programmes and projects in that regard; those include the introduction of a comprehensive programme for adolescent mothers, the establishment of a remand home for young male offenders, and the development of a plan for addressing child poverty. With regard to health and welfare, children in Trinidad and Tobago have access to free health care services at 10 hospitals. It is also noted that 12 public special schools and 21 private special schools provide for the educational needs of some 1,500 students in the country.

In terms of general education, the report indicates that at the pre-school and primary levels, the focus has been on curricular and training initiatives such as the expansion and upgrade in the provision of early-childhood education. The report further notes that the development of the Secondary Education Modernisation Programme marked the start of a new era in the country's education system. The Programme’s main objectives are to provide equity through universal secondary education, an enhanced secondary school curriculum and school personnel who are empowered to facilitate the change process. In terms of juvenile justice, the Children's Act contains special measures for the treatment of accused and convicted child offenders. Attention is also paid to the State's Youth Training Centre, which aims to rehabilitate and reintegrate young male child offenders in Trinidad and Tobago.

Presentation of Report

GLENDA MOREAN-PHILLIP, High Commissioner of Trinidad and Tobago to the United Kingdom, said the Convention on the Rights of the Child, as the first legally binding international instrument to incorporate the full range of human rights, uniquely placed children centre-stage in the quest for the universal application of human rights. In keeping with Trinidad and Tobago’s ratification of the Convention, coupled with its signing of the World Declaration for the Survival, Protection and Development of Children in 1990, various strides had been made in the introduction and implementation of measures to safeguard and promote the rights of children.

The Ministry of Social Development retained responsibility for the National Committee to Monitor the Implementation of the National Plan of Action for Children and the provisions of the Convention, Ms. Morean-Phillip said. Following the United Nations General Assembly’s Special Session on Children in 2002, the Government of Trinidad and Tobago produced a document – A World Fit for Children – which provided the context for the revision of the National Plan of Action which is being considered by Trinidad and Tobago’s Parliament this year.

In May 2004, she noted, the Family Court System as a pilot project for an initial period of two years was established, which made available the use of mediation and other social services to persons involved in matters being adjudicated upon by the Court and encouraged the parties involved to play a greater role in the final determination of their matter in a less acrimonious manner.

In terms of its overall development, Trinidad and Tobago had embarked on a number of projects, with an emphasis being placed on social sector reform, improving the education system and the health sector, and making justice accessible and affordable, while at the same time working to alleviate poverty, Ms. Morean-Phillip noted. A major objective of all these undertakings was to create a better environment for the children of Trinidad and Tobago.

It was noted that in 2000, a package of children’s legislation was enacted which sought to implement the State’s obligations under the Convention. This package comprised of the Children’s Authority Act, the Children’s Community Residence, Foster Homes and Nurseries Act, the Miscellaneous Provisions (Children) Act, the Adoption of Children Act, and the Children (Amendment) Act. In order to ensure proper implementation of the measures contained in this package of legislation, a number of ancillary systems had to be developed and put in place. One such system was the establishment of a court dedicated to hearing matters pertaining to children and the family as a whole in a non-contentious manner.

Ms. Morean-Phillip noted that when serving as Attorney General she appointed a Committee in 2001 to look into the establishment of a Family Court in Trinidad and Tobago, which comprised of key stakeholders representing the Judiciary, the Ministry of Social Development, the Ministry of the Attorney General, the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago and non-governmental organizations. In July 2001, the Committee submitted its recommendations for the establishment of a court as a pilot project for a two-year period and in 2004 the court was established.

In conclusion, Ms. Morean-Phillip reaffirmed that the Government of Trinidad and Tobago was committed to working for the full realisation of the rights of children.


Questions Raised by Committee Experts

KAMEL FILALI, the Committee Expert who served as country Rapporteur for the report of Trinidad and Tobago, said the country had made major efforts and made considerable progress in terms of the rights of the child and several laws and mechanisms had been planned for implementation of the Convention.

The Rapporteur noted with satisfaction the existence of new laws to protect the rights of the child which were in line with the provisions of the Convention; in particular, the Children’s Authority Act, the Children’s Act, the Children Amendment Act and the Law on Domestic Violence, among others. The establishment of the Human Rights Unit within the Ministry of Justice was also noted as were the State’s ratifications of numerous ILO instruments.

Among problems noted were difficulties in coordination of activities related to child rights and those in collecting data, especially in terms of the administration of justice for minors.

Mr. Filali asked why there had been a slowing down in the process of promulgating laws related to the rights of the child after they had been drafted and proposed and whether there was a need for reviewing them to ensure they were in accordance with the spirit of the Convention. He also asked whether the court system could turn to the provisions of the Convention if there was a conflict with domestic law in cases dealing with child rights.

Further information was sought on the delays or improvements with regard to the National Plan of Action; the existence of an Office of an Ombudsperson and whether it was independent and had resources; and adherence by the State to the Paris Principles which called for an independent human rights monitoring mechanism.

Mr. Filali also asked the delegation for information on what measures had been taken to address poverty and the contribution of non-governmental organizations to the work of Government bodies dealing with child rights.

As to the definition of the child, the Rapporteur asked for clarification on legal ages including the age of criminal responsibility, which was noted as being seven years of age, and the age of employment. Additional information was sought on measures to combat discrimination, in particular for those children suffering of HIV/AIDS who were prohibited from attending schools; and corporal punishment. Although progress had been made on this latter point, the Committee was concerned that a prohibition of collective corporal punishment had not been made.

Other Committee Experts raised questions pertaining to the definition of corporal punishment; the means for disseminating information on the Convention on the Rights of the Child, specifically, and the rights of children, in general; religious freedom; free association of children; children’s participation in the Family Court; budgetary allocations for child welfare and protection and central mechanisms which monitored those resources; adoption procedures; and birth registration.

An Expert whether the best interests of the child were factored into the decision process in cases related to children, as well as in the administration of justice.

Several Experts asked for additional information on the role of non-governmental organizations in the development of national policies and programmes in Trinidad and Tobago as regards children’s rights.

While noting with satisfaction the economic progress made by the country, another Expert asked to what extent this upward trend had positively affected children in Trinidad and Tobago. She also sought information on the process of adoption of the National Plan of Action and whether there was a section within the Office of the Ombudsperson which dealt with complaints from children.

On the issue of domestic violence, an Expert referred to the regional consultation on violence against children engaged under the auspices of the United Nations Secretary-General and asked the delegation what plans the Government had to follow up to the recommendations that came out of this consultation.

In a second round of questions, the Rapporteur asked what the dimensions were to the issue of sexual exploitation of children in Trinidad and Tobago. As regards to child abuse and negligence, he asked for additional information on the number of such cases and assistance measures by the State.

The Rapporteur noted that according to an independent survey 16 per cent of the children born in Trinidad and Tobago had disabilities. In that connection, he asked what specific measures were taken to address the special needs of these persons.

Turning to HIV/AIDS, the Rapporteur noted that Trinidad and Tobago was among the first counties in the western hemisphere with a problem of the epidemic. Also of concern was the rate of pregnant teenagers. He asked for additional information on these instances.

Additional information was sought on drug use, street children, sexual tourism, the sale and trafficking of children and child pornography. The Rapporteur noted that there was no specific prohibition on child pornography. On juvenile justice, he asked whether a life sentence could be imposed on a child and whether child offenders were kept in the same prison facilities housing adult prisoners.

A number of Experts asked for additional information on alternative services available for children deprived of a family environment, in particular foster care services and orphanages.

Other Experts asked for information on vocational training; children’s associations; children with disabilities; the reform of the health sector and provision of services for low-income families; child mortality rates; adolescent mental health programmes; detention of minors; and domestic violence.

Response by Delegation of Trinidad and Tobago

In response to a question, the delegation noted that in cases where domestic law was in conflict with the provisions of the Convention, the national law would prevail. However, the courts always took into consideration the provisions of the Convention in dealing with related cases.

In 2001 there was a very turbulent period in Trinidad and Tobago where a change of Government had led to a period of inaction in promulgating laws resulting from a deadlock in Parliament. As a result a number of laws related to the Convention were held up before being enacted. Nevertheless, from 2002 to 2004, the Family Court Committee was established to revise the package of legislation, among other things. One of the recommendations being proposed by this Committee was the creation of an Ombudsperson for children. As to the role of the Ombudsperson, the delegation noted that the current Office was not directly related to children.

As per a new system, birth certificates were now done electronically and were available to all children country-wide for free. Measures were also being taken to register those persons who had not been registered in the past.

In terms of discrimination, it was not correct to say that children with HIV/AIDS were not allowed to attend schools, the delegation noted. If there was such a case of discrimination there was a legal system in place that would challenge that decision.

Concerning corporal punishment, there was a State policy decision to abolish this practice in schools. However, there was no legislation prohibiting corporal punishment at home. Efforts were being taken to sensitize the public about this practice in the home.

The law of Trinidad and Tobago specifically stated that the best interests of the child were paramount in all cases involving their welfare, the delegation said. In terms of mediation of cases involving minors, the court handed responsibility to the Children’s Authority of the country. As to the age by which a child’s testimony could be heard, the delegation noted that there was no legal age; the determination was based on the ability of the child’s understanding of the issues involved.

The delegation said there was a judicial education institute in Trinidad and Tobago where judges received special training in the area of family affairs.

The Human Rights Unit was formed in 1999 under the Ministry of the Attorney General and was assigned to prepare periodic reports due under international human rights instruments to which Trinidad and Tobago was a party. In that connection, the Unit heard and received information from non-governmental organizations.

As to the age of criminal responsibility, the delegation acknowledged that the age was set at seven as per common law. Therefore it was not part of the national legislation.
On the legal age of marriage, the ages varied based on the community involved, although as per the provisions on the Convention and the forthcoming recommendations of the Family Court Committee, this matter was being discussed. The Miscellaneous Act was currently addressing issues pertaining to the legal age of employment. As noted in the report, there were various age requirements for children working in specific sectors.

Concerning immigration affairs, in Trinidad and Tobago there was in place an ad hoc procedure dealing with refugees and asylum seekers. This procedure was modeled after the 1951 Refugee Convention to which Trinidad and Tobago was a party.

The National Plan of Action Committee, which was mandated to coordinate the Government’s efforts in children’s affairs, was reconstituted in 1999 to take into consideration the views of non-governmental organizations.

The Government had embarked on several programmes to disseminate information on the rights of the child in a user friendly format and training had also taken place on a wide scale for educators and social welfare workers. The Ministry of Education had also been engaged in projects to sensitize children and teachers on the rights enshrined in the Convention.

As to violence against children, Trinidad and Tobago organized a symposium in March 2005 in response to the study mandated by the Secretary-General. In all, 16 countries in the region attended as well as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against children. The follow up included the review of related polices and programmes.

It was noted that there had been increased funding in the sector of child welfare and protection in Trinidad and Tobago. There had also been consideration to increase funding for non-governmental organizations involved in these matters.

The delegation noted the creation of a poverty reduction unit within the Ministry of Social Development in order to increase social welfare benefits for children. It was hoped that more than 20,000 households would benefit during this year from these measures.

Concerning alternative care for children, the delegation noted that the placement of children in institutions was done either by social services or by the parents themselves. There were institutions which took in children in conflict with the law and others who had different social problems. It was noted that reunification remained a priority for the State. Children were only isolated in institutions if they had communicable diseases, the delegation added. It was not a policy of the Government to isolate children for other reasons; if there was such a case an investigation was undertaken. The Ministry of Social Development was responsible for monitoring family homes.

In terms of single parent families, the social welfare system provided that paternity rights should be pursued and established before welfare could be given to the mother. In cases of an absent parent who had gone abroad, the State made every effort to establish bilateral agreements with the country concerned to ensure that child support payments were made.

As to domestic violence, the delegation noted the existence of domestic violence units which were operating in the State under the auspices of the Ministry of Community Development and Gender. There was also a telephone hotline and shelters for women and children who have been the victims of domestic violence. Generally there was a housing problem in the country which resulted in limited space in these shelters. There had been enhanced training of police officers in recent years to deal with cases of abused children.

With regards to violence in schools, the delegation noted that much work had been done by the Ministry of Education to deal with the increasing problem of violence in schools. School intervention units had been set up and numerous programmes had been instituted to address this problem.

A national committee was established in 2002 which aimed to, among other things, establish a plan of action for the benefit of persons with disabilities. There were presently two State-run centres which catered to children with disabilities. There had been an increase in social welfare provisions for children with disabilities in the national budget. Moreover, a disability assistance fund had been established where applications could be made to meet the needs not addressed in the general allocation of funds.

In response to questions raised in the field of education, the delegation referred to the school nutrition programme in Trinidad and Tobago where children in need were given free meals. This programme had resulted in increased school attendance. There was a programme set up for adolescent mothers which encouraged them to return to school after giving birth. Scholarships were also provided for by the Ministry of Education for students to provide vocational training.

Turning to the issue of HIV/AIDS, the delegation said the National AIDS Coordinating Committee was established in 2004 as part of a national strategic policy in order to reduce the incidence of HIV/AIDS infections and to mitigate the impact of the effects for those infected with the virus in Trinidad and Tobago. Among other things, a number of public campaigns were undertaken to heighten awareness. Stigma and discrimination were chief among the problems surrounding the issue in Trinidad and Tobago. Anti-retroviral drugs were made available to all persons infected with HIV/AIDS in Trinidad and Tobago free of charge. There were also a number of clinics, as well as mobile units, which assisted those affected by the virus. Similarly, there were a number of Government-supported non-governmental organizations which worked with children living with AIDS and those orphaned by AIDS.

At present there were no statistics on the economic exploitation of children, the delegation said in response to a question. The ILO recently conducted a study indicating that there was a problem in the area of child labour. A national steering committee on child labour was established in August 2004 to coordinate national efforts to eliminate all forms of child labour in Trinidad and Tobago. The Ministry of Social Development was engaged in a project to assist children and families who had been living off dump sites.

In 2001 a survey was carried out in schools which sampled 4,058 students and which suggested that the use of legal substances, such as alcohol and tobacco, was more widespread than illicit substance use.

With regard to street children, the Government had embarked on several projects to reintegrate and provide assistance to children living on the street. Furthermore, a number of non-governmental organization-led projects were being implemented with the support and funding of the Government.

The delegation noted that there was an increasing number of children in Trinidad and Tobago involved in the sex trade. A series of programmes had been initiated with the aim of reducing the problem. There were school programmes with the aim of sensitizing children to this problem and those on sexually transmitted diseases. Preventive workshops were also being conducted targeting all sectors of the population.

In response to a question, the delegation said there were a number of workshops for children to educate them on human rights and their legal implications. The Human Rights Unit, in addition to being responsible for drafting reports, was charged with sensitizing the public on the contents of the five instruments ratified and entered into force in Trinidad and Tobago.

No juvenile convicted of a capital offence was subjected to capital punishment, the delegation said in response to a question. However, the minor could be given a life sentence. These terms, and all others for juvenile criminal offenders, were served apart from adult prisoners.

In response to a follow up question, the delegation noted that the total figure for school enrolment for the school year 2002-2003 was approximately 108,000. The school drop- out rate was not significant.

Preliminary Remarks

KAMEL FILALI, the Committee Expert who served as country Rapporteur for the report of Trinidad and Tobago, said the Government of Trinidad and Tobago had embarked on a process of harmonizing its legislation in line with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was to be commended.

The Rapporteur said the Committee would take into account a number of positive aspects, namely the ratification of several human rights instruments, including on refugees and ILO Conventions, the review of the National Plan of Action for Children, the creation of an inter-ministerial committee to ensure the implementation of the Plan, as well as the pilot project for a family court and the project for juvenile justice reform based on rehabilitation.

The Committee noted the existence of political factors which explained the slowing down of the promulgation of various acts. Among other things, there was a need for an intensification of programmes to combat poverty and improve the social welfare system. There should be a mechanism for receiving complaints by children whose rights had been violated. The issue of child labour and violence against children, particularly sexual abuse, should also be addressed in earnest, Mr. Filali added.

Other issues to be addressed in the concluding observations included corporal punishment and the use of isolation as a disciplinary measure, the spread of HIV/AIDS and its impact on children, inadequacy of measures to prevent early pregnancies, the number of street children and the lack of information on child employment, the use of drugs by youth, care for children with disabilities, and conditions for juvenile criminal offenders in detention.

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