By Leela Ramdeen, Chair, CCSJ, & Director, CREDI. Visit rcsocialjusticett.org for our columns, media releases and more.
“The family is important, and it is necessary for the survival of humanity. Without the family, the cultural survival of the human race would be at risk.” – Pope Francis, 2013
I am in London at the moment and have been discussing with friends the impact of poverty on families/children in the UK. Child Poverty Action Group reports that “poverty affects one in four children in the UK today… poverty isn’t inevitable. With the right policies every child can have the opportunity to do well in life, and we all share the rewards of having a stronger economy and a healthier, fairer society.”
During all my discussions, I cannot help but reflect on the challenges facing families/children in T&T, including poverty and social exclusion. Promoting family life is everyone’s business. We have to stop the ‘blame game’ that sometimes hinders progress in this area. For example, I truly believe that our educational institutions can and must do more to develop right relationships with parents/guardians/communities if we are to create effective learning communities.
Before I left T&T, I was contacted by a journalist for comments on the current review of the 2009 National School Code of Conduct by the Ministry of Education. While it is necessary to make the Code more relevant to today’s reality, implementation of the Code will always remain a challenge. Creating principles of action and standards of behaviour on paper is not rocket science. The challenge will be to secure ‘buy-in’ from all stakeholders and to monitor and evaluate its implementation.
As the book Teacher codes: Learning from experience by the International Institute for Educational Planning and UNESCO states: “…there are challenges to implementing a code: external factors (for instance societal issues and school community/ school culture issues), internal factors (for instance one’s beliefs), lack of understanding of jurisdictional context, resources (for instance time, discussion opportunities, learning materials), and internal and external controls…Some believe that a code does not ensure ethical behaviour.”
Will this Code influence ethical behaviour among stakeholders in a society in which corruption continues to plague our lives? And what about the relevance of the curriculum?
Some of the external factors include involvement by some students and/or their family members in gangs. Recently, the Attorney General said, during the piloting of the Anti-Gang Bill in the Senate, that surveillance by the new Organised Crime, Narcotic/Anti-Gang Unit confirms that there are 211 gangs in T&T with 2,459 members. Inter alia, he said: “Statistically, T&T is wrestling with a gang culture. We’re watching garrison type behaviour across T&T—people emboldened to go into the streets and resist the police. But it’s gone further—we’re watching school children behave in a particular way resembling a form of criminality.” But then, the violent behaviour of some students is only a reflection of what they experience in society.
The Trinidad & Tobago Guardian reported March 21 that “Al-Rawi noted acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams’ 2014 affidavit statement that gang culture had increased in the last 15 years, particularly attracting disenfranchised youth from at-risk areas who lacked a sense of belonging. Williams also said police surveillance confirmed alliances were being worked out among gang factions to facilitate drugs and arms trafficking.”
These are issues that the Code must take into consideration since it cannot be reviewed in isolation. And then there is human trafficking and the scandal of child abuse in T&T. Children’s Authority chairman, Haniff Benjamin, is not the only one who is “moved to tears and has sleepless nights over the heinous cases of child abuse being investigated by the agency”.
Sasha Wilson reported in the Trinidad & Tobago Guardian in February that Benjamin stated that since the inception of the Children’s Authority in 2015 there have been more than 55,000 calls for child protection, of which 13,500 required their intervention.
He said that “From last year into this year we have seen some of the most atrocious acts against our children and we have seen it from year to year to year to year… We are receiving 20 to 30 calls a day for care and protection.”
CCSJ calls on all people of good will to work to save our families/children.
“…let us kneel and plead at the foot of Our Blessed Mother and ask her to protect our families, to protect our beloved country, to protect our children, the greatest treasure we have and to give us the grace to help families in distress. Ask Our Blessed Mother to help us to be united and live as one family…” (Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, Sri Lanka)