For all the air-conditioned, carpeted comfort of the Parliament, certain residue of Tropical Storm Bret found its way into the Chamber yesterday.
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Keyana, Sleep Well, My Little Angel
As I sat among the mourners at the Shouter Baptist Empowerment Hall for the funeral service of young Keyana who was brutally murdered about a week ago, I experienced a flood of emotions.
My heart went out to the parents of this child, to the mother and father who would never again experience the warm smile of their daughter, the chance to hug her and the chance to see her grow up to adulthood—no parent expects to bury a child. I felt it for Keyana’s fellow students, her friends and neighbours who knew this child and loved her and who, as Justice Evans Rees said in a bygone era, must feel that “there is a beast in human form” amongst us.
I also felt it for the Honourable Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, her Cabinet Colleagues, the Member of Parliament for Arouca/Maloney—Alicia Hospedales, and President of the National Parent Teachers Association and member of the Child Protection Task Force—Zena Ramatali. There is a daunting task ahead of us.
We all must come together at a time like this to address the compelling urgency of this most horrific situation. We must do this because it is the right thing to do. But as I looked at the small casket, at the teddy bears and roses, the atmosphere thick with grief and sadness, I wondered: are we really doing enough to protect our nation’s most precious and valuable resource, our children?
I am reminded of a eulogy which Dr Martin Luther King delivered over 50 years ago at the funeral of the three young girls who were victims of an equally senseless attack—no doubt victims of a vile racist attack—when a bomb was detonated at their church near the women’s restroom.
Dr King prophetically and eloquently addressed the nation on the issue of the young girls’ enduring legacy. Dr King spoke: “…they have something to say to each of us in their death…they say to us that we must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the culture and philosophy which produced the murderers.”
Unfortunately these words ring true for us here in T&T in 2013. Keyana’s death must not be in vain but must be an occasion for deep national reflection about ourselves, our families, our communities and our nation. We have a very serious problem in our nation when the most vulnerable amongst us are routinely abused and in many instances murdered.
Over the period 2007-2011 there were 6,253 reported incidents of serious crimes against children. Over that same period over 171 children were murdered and there were 506 reported incidents of indecent assault against children. Why is there a tendency of this society to turn its rage on our hope for the future? Our actions going forward must address this issue and profound solutions must be found.
The Prime Minister’s Task Force will seek answers to these questions and more. Even as old legislation is reviewed and new ones put in place, we must not forget the basics: that it takes a village to raise a child, and that we are in fact our brother’s keeper.
Perhaps it is time that we return to those moorings and develop community care systems in each community: setting up homework centres and after-work care facilities as part of the system. In so doing we can provide the necessary services, particularly in high risk areas, and begin to reverse the horrendous trend of the murder and abuse of children.
We must address community by community and create an enabling environment within them so that our children, the flowers of the nation, can truly bloom. A return to traditional family life must be at the centre of all our efforts. Once this is done, Keyana’s death would not have been in vain but would truly symbolise hope for the future. And to Keyana, I paraphrase the words of William Shakespeare: “Goodnight sweet princess. Goodnight those who symbolise a new day—and may the flight of angels take thee to thy eternal rest.”