International Women’s Resource Network (IWRN) Adriana Sandrine Isaac-Rattan.

Sascha Wilson

An online petition seeking to make sexual offences against minors non-bailable has already garnered more than 40,000 signatures.

The petition follows the recent upsurge in sexual crimes, particularly against children.

It has been initiated by the International Women’s Resource Network (IWRN).

Just last month, at least 16 men were charged with various sexual assault crimes against male and female children, the youngest a five-year-old girl.

And within the last seven days of that month, 11 cases of sexual assault against minors were heard in the courts.

Commenting on this recently, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley said the upsurge in sex crimes against minors, in particular, was horrendous.

He, however, said the number of cases being reported to the police was as a result of the systems that were being put in place to help protect victims.

Lamenting minors must be protected, IWRN’s president Adriana Sandrine Isaac-Rattan said people need as a country to take decisive in protecting children.

“Talking about it is insufficient and we cannot sit and wait for things to happen. We have to make things happen.”

She also agreed with the former head of the Children’s Authority Hanif Benjamin and Trinidad and Tobago Family Planning Association president, Professor Rose-Marie Belle Antoine that a sex education program for children is necessary.

However, some religious bodies have raised opposition about teaching sex education to children in schools.

“I agree with Mr Benjamin and Professor Rose-Marie Antoine we need to educate children in terms of sex and reproductive health,” said Isaac-Rattan.

Noting that some teachers and parents are uncomfortable with discussing this topic with the children, she called for a training and education program to assist them.

Issac-Rattan said the petition seeks to make sexual offences non-bailable in three categories –

*Repeat Offenders

* Perpetrators who have breached their bail conditions should have their bail revoked and remanded into custody until their matters go before the court.

* Perpetrators who sexually assault the less vulnerable Minors (Hearing & Visually Impaired; Autistic and mentally sub-normal).

On the petition’s page, IWRN noted that sexual offences against minors have been escalating in Trinidad and Tobago over the last four months. “Children are one of the most vulnerable groups in society, and the Government has a moral and legal responsibility to do all that it can to protect our nation’s children. What is frightening is that 95% of the offenders are persons close to the victims. These perpetrators would normally be released on bail leaving little or no options for the victims’ peace and protection. A number of the victims have been sexually molested over prolonged periods as long as five to six years in some instances; research conducted by the Int’l Women’s Resource Network shows that such victims treat the abuse as “accepted and normal” behaviour.”

Making an urgent plea for the requested amendments to the Sexual Offences Act, Issac-Rattan said she and her team are hoping to meet with the Attorney General to discuss this matter.