Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : December 7th 2013 Contents A5
Saturday, December 7, 2013 www.guardian.co.tt Guardian
The first task of the 16-member Child
Protection Task Force established by Prime
Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar will be
to look at giving strength to the Children s
So said chairman of the task force Diana
Mahabir-Wyatt at a media briefing after a
meeting with Persad-Bissessar at the Par-
liament Building yesterday.
"One of the things that we are going to
address first is the matter of the Children s
Authority and getting it up on its feet,"
The task force s first report, which will
focus exclusively on the authority, is expected
to be presented to Persad-Bissessar before
A sub-committee, led by Mahabir-
Wyatt, will be responsible for delivering
"They have already drawn up the neces-
sary recommendations about what they need
in detail, including budget and once those
are referred to us we will take a look at them
and within two weeks we will be able to
make a first report on the first part of the
first terms of reference," Mahabir-Wyatt
She said the authority needed staff.
She said: "We can t march into the CPO s
(chief personnel officer) office and say we
want this money now to hire staff.
"What we can say is that what we need
first of all is approval of staff. I think that
is the key thing. If we could get that approved
before Christmas we can do something prac-
tical and immediate."
Giving her view of the abuse of children
in the country, Mahabir-Wyatt described it
as a cultural problem that could benefit from
parenting programmes in all government
"If we had started having parenting classes
in all government schools 30 years ago when
this proposal was made, people who are
now damaging children, this would not be
The task force also appointed chairmen
for two other committees.
One of these have been charged with
examining legislation and the acts affected
by the proclamation of the Children s Act
and will be led by attorney Hazel Thomp-
The final committee will look at existing
programmes that deal with the welfare of chil-
dren with a focus on preventing problems.
She said the task force needed to identify
a list of these programmes.
"We want to make sure that these existing
programmes get the support that they need,"
This committee will be led by head of the
Police Victims and Witness Support Unit,
With two ministers on the task force---
Gender, Child and Youth Development Min-
ister Clifton De Coteau, Minister in the Min-
istry of Gender Raziah Ahmed---and
permanent secretary in the Ministry Sandra
Jones, the task force hopes for the Govern-
ment s strength and support to make a dif-
One conviction and you re out---no bail for
The Government is moving to narrow down
repeat offenders ability to get bail when they are
accused of dangerous and violent crimes, including
drug trafficking or sex crimes.
Piloting legislation to tighten the Bail Act in
Parliament yesterday, Attorney General Anand
Ramlogan cited police statistics on several offenders
who racked up between 11 and 20 charges over
20-plus years, receiving bail on all charges.
He said: "The criminal justice system is being
manipulated by bandits. T&T is engaged in a war
against crime. We ve seen lawless elements
encroach even further. Look at the recent murder
and robbery in the Sentinel issue---a father close
to retirement murdered in cold blood. The most
premeditated of robberies: Cement bags used to
reinforce the vehicle---the kind of thing you see
"The murderer who rapes a young child in her
dying minutes. Don t tell me that poverty is an
excuse! That is a different kind of evil," he added.
The bill requires a three-fifths majority vote
Ramlogan said Parliament had been slow to
react to the crime situation and unresponsive to
the cries of frustration from citizens. He said if
one gang penetrated a community it became dif-
ficult for police to get information, as the gang
would be secreted in the bosom of the commu-
"That s a reality we must face," he said.
Saying the bill was an effort to rebalance the
scales of justice, Ramlogan said bail legislation
over the years had allowed those seeking bail to
have three, and later two convictions.
Under the proposed amendment, he said this
would be narrowed down to one conviction and
people with that number would have to wait 120
days to get bail from a judge or magistrate.
Also, if a person was released from jail and got
charged for another offence within ten years of
the release date, they would be unable to get bail
for 120 days.
"If you are a repeat offender, we re saying
enough is enough. One strike and you re out---
no bail. We re not denying bail outright, but they
will have to wait 120 days if they re not clean (of
convictions). If you re clean, the law won t bite.
We must ensure criminals don t outmanoeuvre
the Parliament," Ramlogan said.
Ramlogan said many accused exploited the
opportunity of being out on bail, using it to
commit robberies to get funds to hire expensive
lawyers or to harass, intimidate or kill witness-
es.He detailed cases from police statistics, noting
where one person received bail for charges between
1991 and 2011 for offences ranging from robbery
to cocaine, marijuana and narcotics possession.
Another involved a similar number of charges
from 1988 to 2007 for matters ranging from
obtaining goods by false pretences and credit-
card fraud to incurring debts, marijuana possession
and fraudulent conversion of funds. Ramlogan
gave the information to Opposition MPs to see
Ramlogan said the former PNM government
also recognised the lackadaisical situation and
Parliament needed to guide the judicial arm on
the issue. He cited examples of how the proposal
could cut the perpetration rate by large percentages.
The recently-appointed Child Protection
Task Force will not be able to summon or
question any stakeholder or public servant,
Gender Affairs Minister Clifton De Coteau
In a statement to Parliament on the team s
operations, he added: "Where the need
arises for specific information to be obtained
from any stakeholder or public service
employee, requests shall be made on behalf
of the Task Force by line ministers."
The 15-member team, headed by activist
Diana Mahabir-Wyatt, was mandated by
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar ear-
lier in the week, following the recent mur-
der/rape of six-year-old Keyana Cumber-
batch of Maloney
De Coteau said from the turn of the mil-
lennium T&T had experienced a continuous
crime increase and children have increasingly
become the targets of all forms of crime,
including sexual assault, physical and emo-
tional abuse and murder.
"Despite legislative amendment and the
coming into force of the Children s Authority,
crimes against children continue to occur
within a complex mix of criminal behaviour,
dysfunctional families, longstanding poverty
and poor living conditions and other factors,"
The team is mandated to tackle the
national issue on "all fronts," including early
detection and protection of children at risk.
Members will report their findings within
six weeks. Recommendations will be dis-
cussed at Cabinet before being presented
De Coteau added: "Policy and action
measures are formed out of these recom-
mendations. Implementation will take place
through relevant ministries and state agen-
"The task force is not formed as an alter-
native unit or sub-set of any ministry and
shall be dissolved immediately upon delivery
of its final report."
De Coteau said the task force, through
its chairman or vice-chairman, would be
empowered to request information relevant
to the mandate of the team only through
line ministers or their assigned represen-
Any dissenting views that are not con-
tained in the final report, together with the
reasons for excluding them from the final
report, would be provided as an addendum,
He said discussions, documentation of
meetings, review and filing of policy and
event information, storage and data related
to the task force would be kept private and
De Coteau said no team member was
empowered to make and engage public state-
ments on its functioning or purpose, whether
in writing, media interviews or discussions
outside the task force.
Govt moves to tighten act...
and no bail
for 120 days
De Coteau on Child Task Force enquiries:
Info will come
Wyatt looks at beefing up Children's Authority
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar chats with head of the Child Protection Task Force
Diana Mahabir-Wyatt during yesterday's news conference. PHOTO: SHIRLEY BAHADUR
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