No Parent Should Bury a Child

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Alicia Chamely
By Alicia Chamely

NO parent should bury a child, and no parent should be denied access to their child. Sadly, this is the reality for Shannon Lallite.

It is safe to say there is not a single person in Trinidad and Tobago who was not adversely emotionally affected by the horrendous murder of four-year-old Amarah Lallite.

No sane person can even begin to comprehend what would posses someone to inflict such a cruel death to a helpless child.

Collectively, as a nation we have been left broken hearted, but none more so than Amarah’s father Shannon Lallite.

Lallite has come forward discussing the hurdles he faced trying to gain access to his daughter, whom he had been alienated from for the last three years. He attempted to file for custody but was denied by both the police and the court. The child’s mother effectively hid his daughter from him, and he had little to no recourse.

All he wanted was to be a present father for his daughter, and all his attempts were unsuccessful; because of what I believe to be a biased and broken system that disregards the value of fathers.

In trying to understand why someone who so desperately wanted to be a part of their child’s life
was blocked from doing so, especially when men are continuously scolded publicly for not “stepping-up”, I reached out to the head of the Single Fathers Association of T&T Rondell Feeles.

According to Feeles, custodial laws in T&T do not adequately recognise the importance of a father’s role in their child’s life and are often subject to antiquated biases that put the mother over the father.

He said there was no system of “shared custody” within our laws. As such fathers are only granted access to their children eight days a month, which is grossly inadequate.

In the case of Lallite and many others, where fathers are denied access to their children, the laws provide little assistance. If a mother denies a father access to their child and refuses to disclose where the child resides, making it impossible for the father to see them, the only recourse a father can take is through the civil court… if they find the mother to serve them papers and have the monetary resources to go through the lengthily legal process.

Feeles believes this method of parental alienation should be classified as criminal, which would allow for warrants to be issued, police and criminal court involvement. He said currently fathers are left behind, they are subjected to the bias that mothers being given full custody is in the best interest of the child, when time and time again we have seen it is not.

I wonder if Lalitte had been given access to his child would the circumstances have been different. Would he have seen the instability of the man his child was living with and fight to remove her from the home.

When a child has their father involved in their lives, especially when their parents are separated, a father provides an extra layer of protection against abuse. Fathers are often given a bad rap in the court of public opinion. We are quick to point out their absence, without trying to understand the circumstances of their lack of presence. We assume they are not around because they don’t care and for many fathers that is not the case.

Unfortunately, our custodial laws make it difficult for fathers to be as involved in their children’s
lives are they need to be. Feeles summed it up perfectly when he pointed out the “hypocrisy” of our leaders, who stand up on platforms and berate fathers, telling them to “step up and get involved,” when our laws make it close to impossible for them to access their children, especially in cases like Lalitte’s where his child was effectively hidden from him.

Our laws need to be amended, not only for the rights of fathers, but for the emotional betterment of our children. And ladies, we need to do better as well. Yes, you may not love or even like the father of your child, but unless he is a abusive crackhead, he deserves access to his children. And our social services need to be more involved in these parental cases, there needs to be follow ups on custody orders to make sure they are being adhered too and to determine the over all wellbeing of the children in question.

We need to do more to protect our children, and something as simple as ensuring the child has equal access to both of their parents can help avoid the tragedies we continue to witness.

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