Child Rights in Trinidad and Tobago
The perspective of a child “The future of tomorrow lies in the hands of today’s children”.
Children can be described as plants, which need the right soil, amount of sunlight and nutrients to properly thrive and flourish. As a plant depends on these key environmental factors to blossom and grow, so too do children need basic human rights to survive and live with dignity.
Child rights are the basic rights and freedoms that belong to every person in the world, from birth until death, regardless of religion, race, sexual orientation, culture or social standing. In particular, child rights are human rights specifically tailored to meet the needs of children, as young, impressionable members of society, designed to protect and mould them into the most resourceful citizens and members of society, for a shared sustainable future.
Caribbean country, Trinidad and Tobago is a former Spanish then British colony which obtained its independence in 1962. In spite of hope of economic growth via gas and oil exports, Trinidad and Tobago has experienced a degradation of its social conditions, gradually leading to poverty and other economic declines. We in Trinidad, however, have been making gradual strides to ensure that the rights of each and every child is secured and adequate resources are made available to all. However, no full credit can be given because although many of us are afforded the majority of our basic rights, there are numerous children in Trinidad and Tobago who are stripped of their rights due to a variety of socioeconomic problems. As outlined by Humanitarium.com, some of these major issues include poverty, violence towards children, AIDS, child marriage, child labour, child trafficking and crime.
Due to a growth in the energy sector (oil and gas), Trinidad and Tobago has experienced strong economic growth since 1994. Nevertheless, poverty is still present since in 2005, 26% of the population lived on less than $2.75 per day. Poverty is the root of many other factors which in turn, strip children of necessary resources needed to ensure their basic rights which would otherwise be afforded in higher standards of living. However, the right to education is afforded to most children as school is obligatory and free in Trinidad and Tobago for children between 5 and 16 years. Contrary to other countries in the area, Trinidad and Tobago provides free transport, books, and meals which has resulted in the highest rate of elimination of illiteracy in the area (98%).
However, poverty, as mentioned, can hinder a child’s ability to purchase resources necessary to stay enrolled in a school and keep abreast with their work. Regarding the right to health, the situation regarding access to health care is alarming in Trinidad and Tobago. In 2010, the rate of infant mortality (meaning children less than one year old) was 24% while the death rate for those under 5 years old was 27%. Moreover, the number of teenage mothers on a rapid incline.
The Caribbean area is the second most affected by the AIDS virus. According to a UNAIDS study, from the moment when the virus was discovered in Trinidad and Tobago in 1983 up until 2005, 15,940 people were diagnosed with the virus. According to the Caribbean epidemiologic center, in 2004, 5% of children aged 0-4 years and 1% of children up to 14 years were victims. In terms of Violence towards children, the government passed a “Domestic Violence Act” which provides a certain level of protection for children who experience violence in their homes. Young people are often vulnerable and can experience rape, physical abuse, drug use, or living situations where parents are under the influence of drugs or committing crimes.
However, despite having this Act, the rights of many children are threatened by increasing instances of gang warfare, domestic abuse, bullying and others, many of which are hardly met with justice. Child labour is relatively prevalent in Trinidad and Tobago. The law authorizes the private and public sectors to employ young people from the age of 16 years. Children aged from 14 to 16 years can however work in family businesses. Children under 18 years old cannot work between 10 pm and 5 am except in family businesses.
However, there are many instances of child labour and exploitation, linked to trafficking rings and prostitution, despite both being illegal. In terms of child trafficking, again cited from “humanitarium.com”, “Although the government passed many measures in order to eliminate human trafficking, it is clear that Trinidad and Tobago does not respect all of the standards in place. Also, as the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees states, it is a place of crossing, of transit, and at the same time a destination of persistent sexual trafficking and forced labour. Girls from Latin America and the Dominican Republic, for example, are very often victims of sexual trafficking and are can be found in clubs or hotels in Trinidad and Tobago. Homeless children who live in the street are also prone to this type of trafficking and can sometimes be pulled into criminal vocation trafficking.”
Crime is a highly prevalent issue which often strips children of their rights, most importantly the most basic one, the right to live. Trinidad and Tobago have poor safety conditions. Indeed, gang activity, during the day and night, as well as physical violence is increasing more and more. Children living in the streets face significant insecurity and sometimes become criminals themselves. Though they may not be directly involved in criminal activity, if they are associated with it through family members or simply by being in that unsafe environment, they are susceptible to depravation of their rights.
As we progress daily, we must stand up and speak out to defend the rights of our children. Trinidad and Tobago is slowly but surely paving the road to bridge the gap between where we are currently, to a positive future in which equitable rights are afforded to all children, and by extension, humans, to create a shared, sustainable future.Written by: Vrishni Maharaj Trinidad and Tobago References:
- “Home Page.” UNICEF, www.unicef.org/.
- “Homepage.” UNAIDS, 22 May 2019, www.unaids.org/.