CATT Chairman Hanif Benjamin

SOCIETY must act quickly to reclaim its children, with every citizen assuming the role of protector, chairman of the Children’s Authority of Trinidad and Tobago, Hanif Benjamin, said yesterday.

Benjamin was asked to respond to a claim this week by psychiatrist Dr Varma Deyalsingh, who is also an independent senator, that older men were going after young girls and this country was dealing with an average of 62 teenaged pregnancies per month.

In an interview with the Express, Deyalsingh said a failure to implement and enforce laws continued to facilitate a breakdown of order and examples should be made of men found guilty of rape - as sex with a minor (under age 18) was a criminal offence.

Abuse in the home, lack of attention, feelings of not fitting in and financial instability also contribute to a mental state that leads some girls to seek or accept attention from older men.

Benjamin noted that the CATT’s powers are limited and that the agency becomes involved when a report is made, with its primary funtions aimed at children reported to be abused.

Public getting involved

The CATT cannot bcome involved where it is not invited but Benjamin said it appeared that members of the public were becoming more involved in child welfare, and were seeming more comfortable with reporting incidents of abuse.

He called on society to take stock of local culture and the messages being imparted to girls.

“We are a very sexual society, it is in our culture,” Benjamin said.

He urged against the sexualisation of children and girls, the latter of whom were sometimes being dressed in “skimpy” clothes that are connected to a sexual culture.

While acknowledging that men are also obligated to behave responsibly, Benjamin warned against the messages being broadcast by the culture.

He was high in commendation for the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service Child Protection Unit (CPU), which he said has been very involved with the CATT.

The two agencies meet monthly to assess ongoing cases and Benjamin said many cases are being closed.

The CATT has had over 20,000 cases of child abuse, including incest, come before it since it’s establishment in 2015.

Benjamin remarked at the volume of cases and said this pointed to issues within society that must be solved and further urged honest dialogue about local culture and its effect on children.