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Friday, December 3, 2021

The Pandemic Poverty Puzzle

rad­hi­[email protected]

Heav­i­ly preg­nant with her sev­enth child, Beat­rice Paul (not her re­al name) faces unimag­in­able tri­als.

Her sto­ry is one among many that have been made worse by the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic and as Fi­nance Min­is­ter Colm Im­bert presents the Bud­get for the next fis­cal year to­day, the an­swers lie in how he in­tends to put the pieces of the puz­zle to­geth­er to re­lieve the suf­fer­ings of tens of thou­sands.

At the age of 31, she has al­ready been through home­less­ness, sex­u­al abuse, phys­i­cal bat­ter­ing and re­jec­tion from three dif­fer­ent men who fa­thered her chil­dren.

De­spite be­ing ed­u­cat­ed and a for­mer stu­dent of a pres­ti­gious high school, Paul is in a fourth re­la­tion­ship.

But why did Paul find her­self in this sit­u­a­tion?

In an in­ter­view with Guardian Me­dia, Paul said she was sex­u­al­ly mo­lest­ed as a child and knew what it felt to feel in­fe­ri­or, un­wor­thy and unloved.

Her bi­o­log­i­cal moth­er aban­doned her. Paul’s adopt­ed moth­er died af­ter she got preg­nant for her high school sweet­heart but that dreamy-eyed re­la­tion­ship did work out as she was abused emo­tion­al­ly and ver­bal­ly.

“I nev­er grew up with my moth­er. I had no­body to guide me in my de­ci­sions, like how I am do­ing with my chil­dren now,” Paul said.

Af­ter her adopt­ed moth­er died, Paul said she be­came vul­ner­a­ble and made a mis­take that led to a sec­ond preg­nan­cy with an­oth­er man.

He walked away say­ing he was not ready to be­come a fa­ther. She was then kicked out of her adopt­ed home.

“Back then I was ready to give up on men. I told my­self I will mind my chil­dren. I did not want to have any­body else,” she said.

December 2020: Children play on the dirt floor of their home in Woodland.


But a rel­a­tive pres­sured her in­to mar­ry­ing a man to give “se­cu­ri­ty” to her chil­dren. That third re­la­tion­ship led to sex­u­al vi­o­lence and phys­i­cal abuse.

Just be­fore the pan­dem­ic hit, she be­came preg­nant again for some­one else.

“You think I want­ed to be preg­nant. Do you think I want­ed to push out a ba­by every oth­er year? I went to Fam­i­ly Plan­ning but I was al­ler­gic to the pill. I start­ed to bleed. I start­ed to get in­fec­tions from the la­tex in the con­dom. My hus­band told me to end the preg­nan­cy but I am against abor­tion. I had my ba­by be­cause I was raised prop­er­ly and I know that abor­tion is wrong,” Paul said.

While peo­ple read­ing this may judge her, Paul said in her heart she tries to be a good moth­er.

“I did not have the guid­ance. I did not get the help I need to cope with my child­hood trau­ma of be­ing abused. Here I am now, preg­nant for the sev­enth time. I wish the gov­ern­ment could put pro­grammes in place for us where the so­cial work­er can come to us and help us with op­tions,” she added.

Paul’s sto­ry is not un­com­mon

Paul’s feel­ings of hope­less­ness were shared by Kar­la, a moth­er of six who told us her hus­band im­preg­nat­ed her of­ten to keep con­trol of her.

He re­fused to give her mon­ey to trav­el to the Wednes­day af­ter­noon Fam­i­ly Plan­ning meet­ings at the Debe Health Cen­tre.

“My hus­band does not want me to go any­where be­cause he would beat me if an­oth­er man so much as watch­es me,” Kar­la said. She begged the doc­tors at the San Fer­nan­do Gen­er­al Hos­pi­tal to tie her tubes but they de­nied her re­quest say­ing she was too young for this pro­ce­dure.

Sav­it­ri who ad­mit­ted to be­ing de­pressed said she has not been able to ac­cess any of the as­sis­tance grants that were avail­able by the gov­ern­ment.

“I have five chil­dren, three dif­fer­ent fa­thers. The old­est one, her fa­ther gives a lit­tle mon­ey to mind her but he wouldn’t help with the oth­ers. We don’t have in­ter­net so I can­not up­load any form on­line. I nev­er pay NIS so I can­not get ref­er­ences. All I can do is go out the road and beg to see if I can get some­thing to feed my chil­dren,” Sav­it­ri ex­plained.

Dr Ralph Henry

Nicole Drayton

Pover­ty is ex­treme says UWI econ­o­mist

Promi­nent econ­o­mist and re­searcher on em­ploy­ment and pover­ty, Dr Ralph Hen­ry agrees that since the pan­dem­ic start­ed, pover­ty has be­come ex­treme in T&T.

Dr Hen­ry who is Head of the De­part­ment of Eco­nom­ics at the Uni­ver­si­ty of the West In­dies said pover­ty lev­els are now way be­yond what was ever pro­ject­ed.

Asked whether a pover­ty grid could have been de­vel­oped in every com­mu­ni­ty to have spe­cif­ic da­ta to as­sist vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple, Dr Hen­ry said the gov­ern­ment has made an ef­fort to as­sist the peo­ple af­fect­ed by the pan­dem­ic.

“There is no way the gov­ern­ment on its own with the lim­it­ed re­sources can al­le­vi­ate pover­ty,” he said.

“It is a ma­jor chal­lenge be­cause there is a lot of cor­rup­tion and peo­ple al­leged­ly in the Min­istry have tak­en the mon­ey and pre­sum­ably giv­en it out to peo­ple who are not de­serv­ing. There are com­mu­ni­ty lead­ers who put them­selves for­ward as heads of com­mu­ni­ty groups, among oth­er prob­lems,” he said.

Dr Hen­ry said to avoid wastage of re­sources, pover­ty da­ta must be ver­i­fied and shared with oth­er agen­cies across the board so there is no du­pli­ca­tion of the re­sources.

“Sur­veys are ex­pen­sive but you have to find some mech­a­nism that is ef­fi­cient and ef­fec­tive in reach­ing most peo­ple. Large num­bers fall be­low the pover­ty line. You have in­for­ma­tion that you can draw from, for ex­am­ple, house­holds with chil­dren, who are reg­is­tered in a school. There must be a record from in­oc­u­la­tion. There is some record that we can draw from that al­lows us to start doc­u­ment­ing peo­ple,” he said.

He not­ed that long ago, there were so­cial work­ers in com­mu­ni­ties do­ing pover­ty means tests, the da­ta of which was uti­lized by gov­ern­ment agen­cies.

Some rec­om­men­da­tions to al­le­vi­ate pover­ty

1- Hire more so­cial work­ers to go in­to com­mu­ni­ties to do a means test on fam­i­lies.

2- De­vel­op a pover­ty grid, doc­u­ment­ing poor fam­i­lies util­is­ing ex­ist­ing da­ta from schools, health cen­tres and gov­ern­ment agen­cies.

3- Al­lo­cate re­sources based on the means test. Put sys­tems in place to en­sure the re­sources reach the right peo­ple.

APRIL 2018: A father with his child at their Tabaquite home.


Fam­i­ly plan­ning break­downs

But the sec­re­tary of the As­so­ci­a­tion of Psy­chi­a­trists of T&T (APTT) Dr Var­ma Deyals­ingh said ed­u­ca­tion can re­duce pover­ty lev­els. He said while fam­i­ly plan­ning out­reach pro­grammes have been suc­cess­ful, there are some set­backs.

“There are rea­sons for a lack of con­tra­cep­tive use. Due to some break­downs in pub­lic health ed­u­ca­tion, we still don’t reach some to teach fam­i­ly plan­ning.

“There are al­so cul­tur­al and re­li­gious bi­as­es, health con­cerns and even scep­ti­cism about the mo­tives of the gov­ern­ment in con­trol­ling fam­i­ly size,” Deyals­ingh said.

He added, “Some may have health clin­ics lo­cat­ed far from their homes and may not have means to trav­el to clin­ics. Then pa­tri­ar­chal con­trol ex­ists where men make the de­ci­sions for their wives whether or not to use con­tra­cep­tion.”

He not­ed that a girl who starts her child­bear­ing years ear­li­er is like­ly to have more kids and less like­ly to fin­ish school.

“Thank­ful­ly gov­ern­ment out­lawed child mar­riages and we now are du­ty-bound to re­port sex­u­al ac­tiv­i­ty in those un­der 18 years. We were be­gin­ning to see few­er preg­nan­cies, fer­til­i­ty rates were al­so de­creas­ing.

How­ev­er, the poor­er per­sons are like­ly to have larg­er fam­i­lies which fur­ther stretch­es their fi­nances as well as be less ed­u­cat­ed which com­pounds the is­sue,” he said.

Deyals­ingh said un­der the School Feed­ing Pro­gramme, poor chil­dren got ac­cus­tomed to get­ting meals but COVID -19 com­pro­mised this.

He says dead-beat fa­thers must be made to pay child sup­port.

“High school boys should be coached in gen­der equal­i­ty and shar­ing child­care re­spon­si­bil­i­ties lat­er on. Fam­i­ly plan­ning should be a pri­or­i­ty in the HLFE cours­es. We must coach teens to un­der­stand their rights, de­lay­ing sex, the le­gal age of con­sent and the im­por­tance of ed­u­ca­tion be­cause in­creas­ing a girls ed­u­ca­tion de­creas­es fer­til­i­ty rates,” he said.

APRIL 2018: A mother sweeps her home in Tabaquite while her child rests on a sponge on the floor.


Rea­sons for hav­ing large fam­i­lies

-So­cial rep­u­ta­tion. Some view chil­dren as bless­ings and a sign they are a re­al woman or to show they can ‘have a man’.

-As a safe­ty net in old age. Hav­ing more kids may pro­vide an ex­tra sense of se­cu­ri­ty for par­ents, with the hope that one day, one or more chil­dren may be suc­cess­ful enough to take care of you. Chil­dren and sib­lings are your sup­port sys­tem. They have your back when the world is against you. They watch out for you.

Cul­tur­al ac­cep­tance: -Some poor un­mar­ried women have kids be­cause they want them. They grew up in a home where their moth­er and grand­moth­er had chil­dren with dif­fer­ent men and it is ac­cept­able.

The prob­lem is the in­sta­bil­i­ty of the chil­dren’s lives as they live through all these dif­fer­ent re­la­tion­ships.

The Thrill:- For some hav­ing a ba­by is a thrill. Be­ing a young moth­er makes them feel spe­cial and equates this to be­ing a suc­cess­ful adult when all oth­er paths are blocked. Some want an­oth­er small hu­man to cud­dle and love and com­plete­ly de­pend on them.

Love and fi­nan­cial se­cu­ri­ty

To keep a con­nec­tion with a part­ner or a fi­nan­cial stream – Some women think that if they have a child with a man he will stay or main­tain a con­nec­tion ei­ther ro­man­tic and or fi­nan­cial and if he leaves, she may find an­oth­er one who can promise her the world and the cy­cle may be re­peat­ed. This is mo­ti­vat­ed by love, fi­nance or the need to feel they have some­one.

Min­istry of So­cial De­vel­op­ment plans 2022 Pover­ty As­sess­ment

When con­tact­ed, Min­is­ter of So­cial De­vel­op­ment Don­na Cox agreed that the pan­dem­ic was caus­ing an es­ca­la­tion of pover­ty, as well as vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty among women and girls.

She said the Min­istry’s So­cial In­ves­ti­ga­tion Di­vi­sion has been en­gaged in the de­vel­op­ment of a Na­tion­al Pover­ty Re­duc­tion Strat­e­gy in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Unit­ed Na­tions De­vel­op­ment Pro­gramme.

“In fis­cal 2022, the Di­vi­sion will be con­duct­ing a Na­tion­al Par­tic­i­pa­to­ry Pover­ty As­sess­ment that will give the Min­istry a bet­ter pic­ture of the mul­ti­di­men­sion­al sit­u­a­tion of pover­ty with­in the coun­try. This in­for­ma­tion, as well as the da­ta that will emerge from the up­com­ing Sur­vey of Liv­ing Con­di­tions, which will soon be un­der­tak­en by the Cen­tral Sta­tis­ti­cal Of­fice, will as­sist the Min­istry in de­vel­op­ing plans and pro­grammes to­wards re­duc­ing pover­ty and im­prov­ing hu­man and so­cial de­vel­op­ment,” she said.

Social Development and Services Minister Donna Cox.


She not­ed that women and girls have be­come more vul­ner­a­ble dur­ing the pan­dem­ic.

“As more women and girls lose their jobs and have few­er funds avail­able to pur­chase need­ed re­sources and ser­vices, they may be pres­sured to en­gage in un­safe liveli­hood ac­tiv­i­ties. More­over, the eco­nom­ic fall­out caused by COVID- 19 could fur­ther in­crease the risk of a child, ear­ly, and forced mar­riage for ado­les­cent girls. This may al­so lead to an in­crease in ear­ly and un­want­ed preg­nan­cies,” she said.

Al­though da­ta is still un­avail­able from the in­for­mal sec­tor, Cox said the Min­istry has tried to as­sist by pro­vid­ing re­lief grants to poor fam­i­lies.

She said 62,739 per­sons were as­sist­ed with the Salary Re­lief Grant and Food Sup­port of which 36 per cent were fe­male ben­e­fi­cia­ries. She ex­plained that the Min­istry recog­nis­es the im­por­tance of ad­dress­ing self-es­teem is­sues in our young women.

“ A strate­gic el­e­ment would al­so be to tar­get the young men and adult males by ad­dress­ing the idea of “tox­ic mas­culin­i­ty” that pre­vails on a lack of re­spect for women and per­mits or sup­ports the ac­tion of males seek­ing out and tar­get­ing young fe­males that are search­ing for love, ful­fil­ment and sta­bil­i­ty. Ad­di­tion­al­ly, the so­cial­iz­ing of our boys must al­so be tak­en in­to con­sid­er­a­tion,” she added.

October 2020: A mother and her children outside their home in Philippine.


Grants Cur­rent­ly Avail­able

Ma­jor grants of­fered by the Min­istry in­clude:

Pub­lic As­sis­tance Grant (PAG)

Dis­abil­i­ty As­sis­tance Grant for Adults (DAG) and Dis­abil­i­ty As­sis­tance Grant for Mi­nors (DAGM)

Gen­er­al As­sis­tance Grant (GAG)

Food Sup­port Grant (FSG) – (long term and Tem­po­rary).

Dis­as­ter Re­lief (Flood­ing)

Spe­cial Achiev­ers Grant

Na­tion­al So­cial De­vel­op­ment Pro­gramme (NS­DP)

Sow­ing Em­pow­er­ment through En­tre­pre­neur­ial De­vel­op­ment (SEED) grant.

This suite of grants is pro­vid­ed to per­sons to sup­port and help them through their chal­leng­ing fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tions while pro­vid­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for in­di­vid­ual and fam­i­ly/house­hold em­pow­er­ment and trans­for­ma­tion. The Min­istry en­sures that per­sons have ac­cess to these grants and ser­vices via of­fices avail­able in 10 re­gions in Trinidad and 1 in To­ba­go.

Kaylie Pferten
A pilot of submersible crafts in a former life, now married to my husband David and writing about investment advice.

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