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Rehab facility for child offenders critical—Mahabir-Wyatt

Tuesday, September 18, 2018
Child rights activist Diana Mahabir-Wyatt delivers the feature address during the Service of Divine Worship for the Ceremonial Opening of the 2018/2019 Law Term at City Hall, Port-of-Spain, yesterday. Photo by:ANISTO ALVES

Child rights activist Diana Mahabir-Wyatt is calling for a special purpose facility for the rehabilitation of child offenders.

Delivering the feature address at the Service of Divine Worship for the Ceremonial Opening of the 2018/2019 Law Term at City Hall in Port-of-Spain yesterday, Mahabir-Wyatt described the lack of such a facility as a crack in the justice system for children.

“I am grateful there are cracks because it is through the cracks we can truly see where the problems are. So we can see the light and we can see where we can begin healing,” Mahabir-Wyatt said as she claimed there was a “desperate need” to address the issue.

The use of the Youth Training Facility (YTC) and industrial schools to house child offenders on remand for serious crimes was deemed illegal by High Court Judge Vasheist Kokaram in 2015. Since then, however, children on remand have been housed in facilities operated by the Children’s Authority.

However, YTC is only meant to house convicted male teenagers and not younger or female offenders.

Mahabir-Wyatt explained that the facility she proposed would be staffed by specially trained personnel who would be able to properly assess and address the issues affecting child offenders, including mental illness, abuse and drug addiction.

“Children do commit crimes but they do so because they have learnt from us,” she said, as she called upon judicial officers to listen to the needs and concerns of child offenders before them.

“They get into drugs not because it is something native to them, but they have gotten into it because of circumstances out of their control,” she added.

While Mahabir-Wyatt said the lack of a facility is a major concern, she noted that Parliament and the Judiciary had made positive steps to ensure the children’s rights are protected.

Describing the Children’s Court as “most impressive”, Mahabir-Wyatt noted that it had dealt with almost 1,100 cases involving child offenders since it was launched in February.

“It (the court) is not there only to punish. That court has advocates for children, because very often they don’t know how to speak in court or for themselves,” she said.

She also noted that the court’s use of peer assessors to adjudicate on less serious criminal offences has had its desired effect.

“Remember you are talking to children who have learned from bitter experience not to trust adults over the age of 30,” she said.

Mahabir-Wyatt, who has over three decades of experience in working with NGOs and State commissions and committees on children’s rights, also thanked Police Commissioner Gary Griffith, who she said was instrumental in establishing the Child Protection Unit of the T&T Police Service (TTPS) during his stint as national security minister. See Page A6


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