Trinidad moves to protect women following gruesome murders

Bert Wilkinson | 3/18/2021, midnight
The recent murders of 23-year-old court clerk Andrea Bharrat and 18-year-old Ashanti Riley so shocked the Caribbean Community nation of ...
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The recent murders of 23-year-old court clerk Andrea Bharrat and 18-year-old Ashanti Riley so shocked the Caribbean Community nation of Trinidad in the past few months that they have sparked a national movement to end a growing trend of deadly violence against women and girls and have even pushed lawmakers to amend legislation to arm women with lethal and nonlethal weapons.

Citizens are tired and fed up of mourning the loss of innocent women who simply vanished on their way home from work or from visits with relatives, and the murders of the two young women sparked a national outcry that reached all the way to the office of Prime Minister Keith Rowley and to the halls of the 41-member parliament which says it will act swiftly to empower women.

One solution being considered is for legislation to allow women to legally carry pepper spray and other nonlethal weapons and to find ways of responsibly fast-tracking gun license permit applications for some categories of women.

Additionally, Rowley has ordered that a system to regulate and monitor illegally working taxis across the country be put in place quickly, as some of the women who were murdered in recent months were last seen boarding these part-time taxi vehicles, which are not licensed as authorized cabs usually are.

Nearly 50 women and girls were murdered on the island last year. Bharrat’s body was found in a jungle area. Search teams also discovered the bones of several other unidentified people who they believe were killed in similar circumstances to Bharrat and Riley.

“I think we need a system of authority and control to be able to exclude undesirable elements. We need a system that permits, identifies and approves who can ply a vehicle for hire. Some system that is enforceable,” Rowley said as angry citizens held candle light and other protest sessions around the country.

Attorney General Faris Al Rawi says the pepper spray legislation will soon reach parliament along with other pieces dealing with gangland violence and arms possession.

“I could say now, up to yesterday the minister of works and transport met with his team and I was there so that we could manage these drivers, law enforcement and protect our innocent. The prime minister has given a directive to get it done,” the AG said. Police recorded 291 murders last year compared to 373 in 2019.

The national security council has already approved the use of Tasers and pepper spray with the AG, saying that he had “drafted the law already. It will be coming to parliament immediately thereafter. So we are well on track.”

As cabinet ministers battle to get the draft legislation before the house, surviving relatives and ordinary citizens have banded together to form a candlelight movement to keep up the pressure on authorities to do more to stem violent crime, particularly against women and girls.

The movement that includes Andrea’s father has issued a series of demands it feels could help to make women feel safer using the roadways, particularly those heading home from schools or work after hours and boarding the most available taxi to get home.

It wants, for example, a commission of inquiry into the national justice system and a tighter system of issuing vehicle license plates to drivers. Some use fake plates, making it harder for police to track down suspects. Pressure from the movement and the national outcry from the murders of the two young women have also pushed authorities to move to fix the national close circuit security monitoring system that badly needs upgrading.