3. State Party Reports

Trinidad and Tobago

[Parts of State party report relating specifically to relevant legal minimum ages, and articles 37 and 40]

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II. DEFINITION OF THE CHILD

21. Age of attainment of majority. According to the Age of Majority Act, chapter 46:06 a person under the age of 18 years is regarded as a minor and as lacking full legal capacity. The Children Act, chapter 46:01 is the primary piece of legislation dealing with the protection of children and the relationship between children and the legal process. "Child" is defined as a person under the age of 14 and "young person" as a person who is 14 years of age or older and under the age of 16. The distinction is made because under the Act, the court treats a child differently from a young person in respect of certain matters, for example committal. The Act deals not only with protection of persons under 16 years, but also with certain offences committed against these persons, industrial schools and orphanages, juvenile offenders and employment of children.

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24. Minimum age for giving voluntary testimony. A child may give sworn testimony if he/she understands the nature of the oath. The child may give unsworn testimony if he/she does not understand the nature of the oath provided that the court considers him/her to be sufficiently intelligent to justify the reception of evidence and also considers him/her to understand the duty of speaking the truth.

25. Minimum age of deprivation of liberty. A child under 14 cannot be sentenced to imprisonment. A child who is 14 years or older and under the age of 16 may be sentenced to imprisonment if the court determines that the child is so unruly or so depraved that he cannot be detained in an institution other than a prison.

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29. Criminal liability. The age below which a child is conclusively presumed to be unable to commit an offence is seven years under the common law. However, legislation raising the age of criminal responsibility to either 10 or 12 is being considered.

30. Deprivation of liberty. The provisions of the Children Act deal with corrective action where minors come into contact with the courts, and where "children" under 14 years of age are treated as one category and "young persons" of 14 or 15 years as a different category. The Act only extends to persons of 16 and over in a few contexts.

Planned action in regard to definition of the child

31. The Government is considering recommendations to:

  1. Amend the Children Act, chapter 46:01 to restructure and clarify the definition of a child and to extend the protection afforded by the Act to 16- to 18-year-olds. Inter alia, this will necessitate the following:
  1. Re-defining certain offences, for example, the offences of cruelty prescribed in the Act, to rationalize the maximum age for protection and the various minimum ages at which specific offences may be committed;
  2. Conferring the protection of a fit person order and the proposed care order under the Children (Amendment) Bill to persons up to age 18;
  3. Extending the age limit at which children may be removed or may go to places of safety to 18;
  4. Raising the age of a juvenile or youthful offender to 18 - this would have to be considered together with provisions on the arrest, bail, remand, custody, detention, attendance before court, penalties, commitment and other provisions which relate to juvenile offenders. At present, this is between 7 and 16 years;
  1. Engage in consultation with a wide cross-section of the national community in order to determine a single minimum age for marriage. Preliminary discussions indicate that 16 years may be an acceptable minimum age;
  2. Amend the Family Law Act, chapter 46:08 to allow maintenance orders to continue until the age of 18 years without the need for a court direction to this effect;
  3. Amend the Matrimonial Proceedings and Property Act, chapter 45:51 to extend maintenance orders up to age 18 in the first instance.

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IV. CIVIL RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS

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H. The right not to be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (art. 37)

47. The Children's Act, chapter 46:01, section 78, states that a child may not be sentenced to imprisonment, and a young person may not be imprisoned unless he is certified to be unruly or depraved. Even then he must not be allowed to associate with adult prisoners, and in no circumstances could he be sentenced to hard labour when that obtained.

48. Where a person under the age of 18 years commits an offence for which the death sentence applies, such sentence may not be pronounced or recorded against him. Instead he is sentenced to be detained during the State's pleasure (Children Act, chap. 46:01, sect. 79, as amended by Ordinance No. 6 of 1953)

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VIII. SPECIAL PROTECTION MEASURES

A. Children in conflict with the law

147. The general provisions of Trinidad and Tobago's criminal and penal systems are in conformity with the requirements of this article. However, persons of 16 and 17 years of age are not regarded as children, and do not generally benefit from the protections in place for young persons.

The administration of juvenile justice (art. 40) and children deprived of their liberty, including any form of detention, imprisonment or placement in custodial settings (art. 37 (b), (c) and (d))

148. Apprehension of juveniles. When a juvenile is apprehended and it is not possible to take him before a magistrate immediately, the officer in charge of the relevant police station has an obligation to release the juvenile on sufficient recognisance, unless the charge is one of homicide, or a grave crime. The officer also has discretion not to release the juvenile if it is in his own interest to be removed from associating with a reported criminal, or if the officer has reason to believe that his release would defeat the ends of justice. If the juvenile is detained he must be kept at a place of detention in the meantime, unless the officer certifies that this is impracticable or that the juvenile is too unruly to be safely detained in this way, or that it is inadvisable to detain him because of his state of health or his mental or bodily condition. It is the responsibility of the police to prevent the juvenile from associating with any adult offenders (excluding relatives) whilst in custody. Once the matter comes before the magistrate and the juvenile is remanded or committed for trial, if he is not released on bail, he must be committed to a place of detention. As soon as a juvenile is arrested, his parent or guardian should be notified by the police and warned to attend court. If necessary the magistrate has power to enforce their attendance.

149. Court procedure. The substance of the charge is explained in simple language to the juvenile. Even though the charge is one where the accused would normally be given the option of electing a trial by jury, charges against a child are always dealt with summarily except murder or manslaughter. In the event that the offence is proved or admitted, the accused may make a statement in extenuation or mitigation. Thereafter he may be remanded pending a probation report.

150. Sentencing. The usual penalty imposed by the court is financial since juveniles are only detained in exceptional circumstances. A child may not be sentenced to imprisonment, and a young person may not be imprisoned unless he is certified to be unruly or depraved. Even then, he is not allowed to associate with adult prisoners and under no circumstance can he be sentenced to hard labour. Apart from the imposition of fines, the Court has a wide range of orders which it may make including:

  1. Dismissal;
  2. Committal to the care of a fit person, including a relative or industrial school and orphanage;
  3. Committal to a place of detention;
  4. Whipping, specifically under the Corporal Punishment (Offenders not over 16) Act, chapter 13:03 which provides that a male offender of not more than 16 years may be sentenced to be whipped in lieu of any other sentence. If the offender is 12 or less, up to 6 strokes may be given, or if he is over 12, up to 12 strokes. The sentence must be carried out on a single occasion and within a month.

151. Apart from the circumstances when the court is concerned to address custody and other issues when typically the child is not directly involved in the proceedings, children may also be involved in court procedures either as victims or as offenders. There is a body of law establishing offences which have particular reference to children, the manner in which the court deals with children as witnesses and as offenders, and the remedies which may be applied.

152. Offences against children are identified in the following Acts: Children Act, chapter 46:01; Offences against the Persons Act, chapter 11:08; Summary Offences Act, chapter 11:02; Sexual Offences Act, 1986; Family Law (Guardianship of Minors, Domicile and Maintenance) Act, chapter 46:08. Offences under the Children Act and certain offences listed in the Schedule to that Act trigger the court's power to protect children in various ways. The Act defines "child" as a person under 14 years and a "young person" as someone who is 14 or 15 years. Chapter 46:01 of the Act is mainly concerned with the protection of children and young people, and the police are given wide powers in this area.

The sentencing of juveniles, in particular the prohibition of capital punishment and life imprisonment (art. 37 (a))

153. The legal system does not permit a death sentence to be pronounced or recorded against a person under the age of 18 years and he is instead sentenced to be detained during the State's pleasure. (Sect. 79, Children Act, chap. 46:01 as amended by Ordinance No. 6 of 1953).



Planned action in regard to children in conflict with the law

154. As a result of the escalation of criminal activity, thought to be particularly marked among the juvenile population, Cabinet appointed in August 1992, an inter-ministerial committee to examine the situation. The committee submitted a report in January 1994 containing several recommendations for the establishment of projects/programmes in the following areas.

155. Stigmatization. Having noted an increase in the proportion sentenced to imprisonment and the research data on the deleterious effects of all custodial sentences on prognosis, as well as the possible stigmatization which may result from any individually focused intervention, the mixing of categories of detainees at the various institutions, the high proportion of remandees at the Youth Training Centre, and the award of custodial sentences for slight offences in some cases, the committee recommended, inter alia, the following short-term measures:

  1. Alternatives to custodial sentences at all levels and for all age groups up to age 25. These might include:
  1. Weekend attendance centres;
  2. Community service;
  3. The above combined with individual or family counselling;
  4. The expanded use of the probation service; and
  5. Remand on bail rather than in custody;
  1. The encouragement of non-governmental organizations to participate in community-based programmes for young people into which offenders might be placed alongside non-offenders;
  2. The expansion and continuing support for self-help ex-offender groups within the community;
  3. That offenders under 25 years of age be given custodial dispositions only when clear need can be demonstrated;
  4. The provision of segregated facilities for children and young people on remand (unconvicted) convicted of a status offence only and convicted of a criminal offence and that such provisions should be made for both males and females.

156. Family related factors. The committee noted that lack of parenting skills was one factor associated with juvenile and youth crime as well as intrafamilial violence and lack of parental means. In this context the strengthening of the capability of the family to fulfil basic functions of socialization and inculcation of values was regarded as critical. In view of this the committee recommended the following measures:

  1. Short term:
  1. The conduct of parenting seminars/family life education programmes in a variety of non-stigmatizing settings, such as neighbourhood schools, maternity clinics and churches;
  2. The dissemination of information on family life education;
  3. The provision of intensive counselling and support for families in distress in collaboration with voluntary organizations;
  1. Medium/long term:
  1. The establishment of multipurpose facilities, particularly in high-risk communities with provision for counselling rooms, education and training programmes, recreation, etc.;
  2. The solidification of the legal framework for protecting families and their individual members from detrimental practices such as child abuse, neglect and domestic violence.

157. Homelessness/destitution. The committee noted the problem of youth homelessness and in particular the situation of young people who leave the children's homes and various correctional institutions. The committee recommended the following measures:

  1. Short term:
  1. The provision of temporary shelters and counselling services for youths who are destitute with a view to reuniting them with their families;
  1. Medium/long term:
  1. The development of programmes at the custodial institutions which focus on building self-esteem, positive attitudes, moral values, etc. to enhance the quality of individuals emerging from these institutions;
  2. The introduction of preparatory and counselling programmes for youths about to leave institutions such as children's homes and correctional institutions; and
  3. The establishment of half-way houses to accommodate juveniles discharged from children's homes and correctional institutions with no alternative accommodation.

158. Drug use and abuse. The committee recommended the following measures:

  1. Short term:
  1. The commissioning by Government of a survey of drug use among the post-school-age population to determine the incidence of drug use and abuse and to identify circumstances associated with the onset of the habit;
  2. The collection of data for both school and post-school persons which would distinguish the incidence among males and females so that appropriate treatment and communication strategies may be devised; and
  3. Continued support of the public awareness programmes sponsored by the National Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention Programme and others and, following research, the use of targeted marketing strategies to address those sectors of the population most at risk.

159. The committee made the following general recommendations:

  1. The establishment of an implementation committee to develop an action plan for introduction of measures approved by Cabinet;
  2. The institution of measures to ensure the collection of statistics pertaining to juvenile and youth crime in a structured comprehensive manner in order to accurately reflect the extent of the problems of juvenile delinquency and youth crime in the society, such as the establishment of a post of demographer with a specialization in criminology at the Central Statistical Office; and
  3. The establishment of a centre for criminological research which could access findings from international sources.

160. Correctional Programmes. The committee also endorsed the recommendations for institutional care reform contained in the Ministry of Social Development (Family Services Division) report on the situation analysis of children in extremely difficult circumstances, such as:

  1. Training:
  1. Upgrading of the entry requirement for care givers so that recruits and trainees might have the potential to fulfil the mission of the correctional organization;
  2. Ongoing training and retraining of staff to equip them to better understand and respond to the challenges of their jobs,
  1. Youth Training Centre:
  1. The adoption of relevant aspects of the programme at the Youth Training Centre by other correctional institutions;
  2. Further legislative reform to allow greater flexibility in the treatment of residents at the Centre, especially in respect of the authority to involve young male offenders in activities outside the institution other than education and training;
  3. The assignment to the Youth Training Centre of a social worker trained in rehabilitation and counselling;
  1. Probation Services:
  1. The development of rehabilitation programmes for the 21 to 25-year old age group;
  2. The provision of a formal after-care programme, possibly under the auspices of the Probation Service, for youths discharged from the Youth Training Centre;
  3. The initiation of a follow-up programme for ex-probationers in terms of a routine check on the individual's status one or two years after the probation period.

161. In keeping with the general recommendations, a committee has been appointed to monitor implementation of the recommendations contained in the Juvenile Delinquency and Youth Crime Committee report and a subsequent ministerial report identifying programmes pertinent to the recommendations. This committee has been mandated to:

  1. Ensure coordination of the activities of the various ministries in respect of the implementation of projects/programmes identified in the report;
  2. Review progress of the projects/programmes;
  3. Evaluate the impact of project/programme implementation on the crime situation;
  4. Prepare semi-annual reports; and
  5. Make recommendations for the introduction of new projects/programmes or the expansion of existing ones based on evaluation.


162. In order to facilitate the execution of its mandate the committee is engaged in the following tasks.

  1. Identification of monitoring indicators in order to track progress of the various projects/programmes;
  2. Sensitization of the various Ministries to the committee's mandate; and
  3. Sensitization of institutions targeting youth at risk.

163. The following factors and difficulties exist:

  1. The existing law(s) governing offences against children is(are) archaic and often contradictory;
  2. There are insufficient staff and courts to meet the requirements of the legal services;
  3. Severe financial and human resource constraints prevent the implementation of measures alternative to institutionalization;
  4. Effective monitoring mechanisms are non-existent for children who are being dealt with under the law;
  5. Inadequacy of existing preventive programmes for children at risk;
  6. The majority of staff in institutions is ill-equipped in terms of attitude and training to address the special needs of the deprived children in care.
[Further information in State party report relating to the administration of juvenile justice]

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V. FAMILY ENVIRONMENT AND ALTERNATIVE CARE

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J. Periodic review of placement (art. 25)

82. Under various provisions in the Children Act, the Minister of Social Development is given the power to what effectively amounts to a review of a judicial decision committing a child or a young person to the care of a "fit person" or to a certified school or orphanage. The Minister can therefore discharge a child or young person, including a youthful offender, from the care of a fit person or from a certified school either absolutely or on such conditions as the minister approves. While this may facilitate the rehabilitation of such children and their reintegration into society, there are no guidelines as to the exercise of this power. In addition, no specific body or officers is conferred with the authority to monitor such children or to make recommendations to the minister.

83. Factors and difficulties encountered include the following:

  1. No mechanisms exist for continuous data collection concerning child abuse, homeless children, and children placed in institutional care;
  2. Human and financial resources are severely lacking to address the problems of children in the family environment and provision of alternative care;
  3. Mechanisms for the evaluation of existing programmes are largely non-existent.

Existing programmes in regard to family environment

84. The National Family Services Division, Ministry of Social Development, conducts lectures, seminars, etc. on family life issues such as parenting, child and adolescent development, and human behaviour and sexuality. Information on Family Life Education is disseminated via the print and electronic media. Counselling services are also provided by the National Family Services and the Probation Divisions to "walk in" clients and referred cases.

85. An integrated programme of support for children in especially difficult circumstances was developed based on the findings of a "Situation analysis of children in especially difficult circumstances" completed in 1993 and funded by UNICEF.

86. The programme's activities are national in scope and are being implemented at the community level through voluntary groups and non-governmental organizations. The programme's major objectives are:

  1. The implementation of an integrated national programme aimed at ameliorating the plight of children in especially difficult circumstances; and
  2. To support and develop institutional capabilities to sustain the implementation of this programme.

87. The three strategic areas identified are:

  1. Advocacy for public policy and programme support;
  2. Community involvement and outreach; and
  3. Strengthening capabilities of supportive environments including the home, institutions and programme implementing agencies.

Advocacy for public policy and programme support

88. Activities already implemented include the following:

  1. A "Family Policy" Conference which was held in 1994 to articulate a national family policy and to obtain national consensus. Two follow-up implementation seminars to the Conference were also conducted at the local/district level;
  2. A radio "call-in" programme series entitled "School for Parents" which focused on imparting parenting skills was broadcast. A pilot programme was successfully launched in 1993 and a new series commenced in 1995.

Strengthening capabilities in supportive environments

89. A series of training workshops entitled "Caring for care givers" targeting the staff of children's homes was conducted in 1993. The workshops were designed to improve the quality of the services provided to the children and to increase the ability of the care givers to provide guidance to the children in their care. The infusion of the "Caring for care givers" curriculum into related training curricula and programmes has also commenced.

90. A policy on standards and procedures for children's homes was published and distributed to the managers of the homes.

Planned programmes in regard to family environment

91. Community involvement and outreach activities include the following:

  1. Development of a set of prototype materials for use in training outreach workers;
  2. Establishment of a seed grant fund to be managed by the National Family Services Coordinating Council to be disbursed to NGO's to provide start-up assistance to reputable community groups and agencies;
  3. The establishment of a "hot line" for use by children in difficult circumstances to be operated by a non-governmental organization.
Source: Initial reports of States parties due in 1994: Trinidad and Tobago, UN Doc. CRC/C/11/Add.10, paras. 21, 24-25, 29-31, 47-48, 82-91, 147-163 (17 June 1996)