Minister Clifton De Coteau speaks on the occasion of the Launch of the Break the Silence Campaign
MINISTRY OF GENDER, YOUTH AND CHILD DEVELOPMENT
The Honourable Clifton De Coteau
Minister of Gender Youth and Child Development
On the Occasion of the
National Launch of the Break the Silence Campaign
Wednesday 15th January, 2014
Hyatt Regency Trinidad
The Honourable Kamla Persad Bissessar, SC, Prime
Minister of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago
Senator the Honourable Raziah Ahmed, Minister of State in
the Ministry of Gender, Youth and Child Development
Mr. Richard Blewitt, United Nations Resident Co-ordinator
Ms. Khin-Sandi Lwin, UNICEF Representative to the Eastern
Episkopus Archbishop Barbara Gray-Burke, Ark of the
Covenant Spiritual Baptist Church
Brother Harrypersad Maharaj, President of the InterReligious Organisation
Dr. Rhoda Reddock, Deputy Principal, St Augustine
Campus, University of the West Indies
Ms. Hazel Brown, President of the Network of NGOs and
Ministry of Gender, Youth and Child Development Special
Envoy on Women and Gender Equity
Ms. Brenda Goopesingh, Ministry of Gender, Youth and
Child Development Special Envoy on Women and Gender
Mrs. Sandra Jones, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of
Gender, Youth and Child Development
Mrs. Patricia Boyce-Diaz, Deputy Permanent Secretary,
Ministry of Gender, Youth and Child Development
Mrs. Jennifer Johnson, President of the Trinidad and Tobago
Girl Guide Association
Representatives of the Children’s Authority of Trinidad and
Members of the Child Protection Task Force
Members of the Advisory Council on the National Strategic
Plan for Child Development
Members of the Board of Management and Management of
Representatives of Government Ministries
Representatives of the United Nations System in Trinidad
Representatives of Civil Society Organisations, Faith Based
Organisations and Non Governmental Organisations
Heads of Departments and staff of the Ministry of Gender,
Youth and Child Development
Specially Invited Guests
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen
Members of the Media
As the Minister of Gender, Youth and Child Development I take
tremendous pleasure in addressing this august gathering for the National
Launch of the “Break the Silence: End child sexual abuse” campaign,
hosted in collaboration with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
It is our joint conviction that we must never waver in our efforts to
safeguard the rights and needs of one of the most vulnerable groups in
society, our children.
The Break the Silence: end child sexual abuse campaign was one of the
products of a 2008 comprehensive research programme spearheaded by
the Institute of Gender and Development Studies at the University of the
West Indies. The project was successfully completed in collaboration with
the Trinidad and Tobago Coalition Against Domestic Violence and in
partnership with UNICEF and the UN Trust Fund to End Violence Against
Women. Other contributors included ChildLine, Toco Foundation, Arts-inAction, the Tobago House of Assembly and the Citizen’s Security
Programme of the Ministry of National Security.
The work of the Institute of Gender and Development Studies and their
invaluable collaborators laid the foundation for years of progress in
advancing gender issues in the Caribbean and specifically in our beloved
nation of Trinidad and Tobago. There are no words that can adequately
express our immense gratitude for your labours, initiative and fearless
commitment to our citizens. All I can say is thank you.
Ladies and gentlemen, today we are promoting the Break the Silence
campaign on a national, government-led level. This campaign is especially
indispensible in treating with the issues of child sexual abuse and incest as
it affects children, families and the wider society of Trinidad and Tobago. I
assure you that the Ministry of Gender, Youth and Child Development is
committed to safeguarding our nation’s children to facilitate the
achievement of their full potential.
We continue to implement multi-
disciplinary and multi-sectoral approaches involving collaboration among
Ministries, agencies, communities, families and children to provide
meaningful and long-term care for all children.
Our collaboration with UNICEF and all the service delivery agencies is part
development within Trinidad and Tobago and to achieve our overarching
goal for improved lifestyles for all our children. As we seek to afford equal
care for and access to services for children of all socio-economic situations,
we are ensuring that every boy and girl is happy, healthy and confident that
their rights are respected, protected and promoted to facilitate their holistic
development towards achieving their fullest potential as active contributors
Child development refers to the biological, psychological and emotional
changes that occur in human beings between birth and the end of
increasing autonomy. It is a continuous process with a predictable
sequence yet having a unique course for every child. Positive child
development promotes and enhances the health, well-being and capacities
of children, which is the driving force behind the National Strategic Plan for
Child Development 2012-2016. The Plan caters to children aged 0 to 17
years and details the key priorities and their corresponding strategies and
programmes to be implemented by the various Government agencies.
To facilitate the enhanced development of our nation’s children, the
Government seeks to implement a robust child protection system. This
system includes laws, legal processes, policies, regulations, and reporting
mechanisms and the provision of comprehensive services to child victims.
However, over the past few years, we have all borne witness to the
insidious, criminal acts of child abuse that have given rise to the
establishment of the Child Protection Task Force.
Child abuse has an incredibly significant impact on children’s development
mentally, socially and sometimes physically which can extend well into
adulthood. Furthermore, behavioural problems and psychiatric disorders
also develop which has a ripple effect on the family and by extension the
In the fight to reduce and eradicate the incidence of child
sexual abuse we are often times under-informed. Accurate statistics on the
prevalence of child and adolescent sexual abuse are difficult to collect
because of under-reporting and the clear understanding and definition of
what constitutes such abuse.
Over time, the reports of child sexual abuse have increased, as the public
experiences heightened awareness of the issue and legislation has
continued to evolve to match the needs of the populace. In 2006, over a
six-month period 165 cases of child sexual abuse were reported to the
police. 85% related to violations of girls (16% were cases of incest). In
2013, the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service’s Victims and Witness
Support Unit reported more than 200 reported cases of incest, rape and
sexual abuse over the course of a three month period, for one of the nine
regions in the country.
Although this figure is horrendous, what is even more alarming is that this
may not totally reflect the actual number of cases, as children are seldom
willing to report the abuse. According to UNICEF, a 2012 publication
entitled ‘Sexual Abuse’ by MaryLee Floric and Matthew Broyles indicated
that reports to the police constitute less than 50 percent of all sexual
assaults on children. This is a disquieting ratio that reflects a pronounced
need to bolster the reporting mechanisms for child sexual abuse. This
reluctance is due to their own personal sense of shame and guilt,
manipulation or threat from the perpetrator and a real fear of being ignored
Because of previous cultural trends deeming this issue taboo, children
suffer from being voiceless. Compounding the silence of our victims is the
silence of family members, care-givers, neighbors, community members
and other persons in authority. In a 2008-2009 study on Child Sexual
Abuse in the Eastern Caribbean, UNICEF found that violence is often
perpetuated by non-abusing adults through their complicity, silence, and
denial of not taking appropriate action to protect children. This study
revealed that there was a high percentage of non-abusive partners who
turned a “blind eye” to victims within their own family.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is based on these figures that the Government is
exploring all avenues to create an enabling environment for children to
speak out and have on-going support throughout their development.
Kenneth Carroll "Kenny" Guinn was an American businessman, educator
and politician who spoke out against child abuse and encouraged better
Government systems to treat with this societal scourge. He stated:
The best service to the child is the service closest to the child,
abandonment. They must not also be victims of bureaucracy.
They deserve our devoted attention, not our divided attention.
To guarantee that children receive our undivided attention, the Ministry of
Gender, Youth and Children has entered into effective partnerships with
international, regional and local organisations to ensure that children are
not left voiceless, but are clearly heard regardless of age, gender or socioeconomic status. The Breaking the Silence campaign is once such
initiative. Guided by the Declaration on the Rights of the Child the
campaign reflects the fulfilment of the rights and responsibilities of children
Every child has the right to speak about things which affect them; and
Every child is responsible for telling their parents (or a figure in
authority) what is happening to and around them.
In 2014, the nation will see the implementation of a National Children’s
Registry which will provide a more efficient method of monitoring child
development and assist service providers in quickly identifying children in
need of specialized support. This will also be invaluable in reducing the
duplication of services and improving communication among practitioners.
As my esteemed colleague, Dr. Bhoe Tewarie, Minister of Planning and
Sustainable Development, stated yesterday, adults are largely responsible
for the abuse of children. Thus, we have to treat very explicitly with abusers
and the non-abusers who perpetuate an environment of fear and
subjugation. Sadly, the heart wrenching reality is that child sexual abuse is
not only perpetrated by adults, but by other children who themselves were
victims of abuse. For this vicious cycle to truly be thwarted, we must break
the silence! We must reach out to the victims and their families with a
message to speak out and denounce, to break the stigma and shame that
surrounds the issues of child sexual abuse as a first step to seek help.
The Government recognises its responsibility to support families on various
levels, from financial stability to emotional well-being. Thus we continue to
work assiduously to refine legislation and service delivery to treat with all
cases of child abuse and reduce the surge in new attacks. To address the
home life, where most cases of child abuse originate, the National
Parenting Programme will offer support to targeting parent, parents to be,
caregivers and guardians.
Not only are we heavily engaged in public sensitization and raising
awareness of the social issues and avenues for support and rehabilitation,
but the Government continues to implement other initiatives that provide a
continuum of support for the children of our nation which include:
The introduction of the new package of legislation promoting the
rights of children, inclusive of the Children Act, 2012; the Children’s
Authority Act and the Children’s Community Residences, Foster Care
and Nurseries Act, 2000.
Foster Care and Adoption to provide support, protection and the
opportunity to acquire appropriate care from a person or family
through child welfare services or a court order.
Subventions to Children’s Residences, where children removed from
abusive or other situations are placed in and receive quality care for
their basic and developmental needs.
Vacation Camps are hosted annually for children aged 3 to 11 and 12
to 17 years, exposing children to out of school curricula inclusive of
social skills and personal development; and providing a safe, learning
and stimulating environment during the school break.
Free counselling for children and families across the nation is
provided by the National Family Services Division. The Ministry also
partners with first responders such as ChildLine and the Trinidad and
Tobago Police Service’s Victims and Witness Support Unit.
The National Youth Policy 2012-2017 was developed for youth
between the ages of 12 and 29, to facilitate youth development and
empowerment on a national level.
The Ministry continues to swell the ranks of its cadre of social workers and
bolster its support staff through technical training. Beyond the actual staff, a
critical part of the process is our robust monitoring and evaluation system
that ensures that our efforts are not in vain and we are actually achieving
Additionally, the Ministry simultaneously seeks to break the silence by
highlighting the positive changes that children are effecting in their
communities and nationwide.
The National Youth Awards are hosted annually to celebrate the
accomplishments of our youth, aged 12 to 29 years old in a variety of
In November 2013, the Ministry collaborated with UNICEF and
commemoration of Universal Children’s Day. The Publication
highlighted the achievements of children between the ages of 0-17
who have contributed to the development of their community, school
Ladies and gentlemen, we must Break the Silence on child sexual abuse!
The time has long since come for us to change the old adage that a ‘child
should be seen and not heard’. Children have a right to be heard and
believed. The Break the Silence Campaign is one such measure to ensure
that our children have an avenue to speak about a hurtful subject, and
adequate protection when they speak out.
As we continue to engage our invaluable stakeholders, many of whom are
gathered here today, I encourage us all to work diligently to fulfil our
obligations. Whether it is through
policy development, legislation
contribution is integral for our collective success. I know that with unfailing
dedication to service we will reap timeless rewards in ensuring a better
future for our children.