On Wednesday the country awoke the news that 69 persons had been rescued from a supposed church and rehabilitation centre in Arouca. All types of terms were bandied about like “human trafficking” and “modern day slavery”. The exact details are still emerging, but it seems most likely to be a rehab centre, albeit, a severely misguided one. A Reuters report quotes local police as saying that it catered to drug addicts and ex-prisoners. Even if a person is deemed a troublemaker, it is against ethics and the law itself to take it upon yourself to detain and torture them to change their ways. A report has since emerged, quoting the pastor in question during his time before a Parliament Joint Select Committee in June 2016. This pastor insisted that he was helping these people off the streets. But why were they in cages? Why are families insisting that they aren’t being able to contact their loved ones? Nothing gives anyone the right to handcuff, taze, beat and put a person in a cage. That is barbaric, especially for someone trying to overcome an addiction or other issues.
The matter of regulation for drug rehabilitation centers is also now at the forefront. Both the Health and Social Development Ministers say checks were done at the facility, with officials noting, as far back as 2015, that the facility was not up to a certain standard. Another assessment was done this year as well. So the question is, were the cages noted? Why wasn’t something more authoritative done to shut the facility down? More needs to be done to monitor and hold places like this accountable for their operations. Regardless of what service they claim to provide, legal experts, including the Dean of UWI’s Law Faculty agree that it contravenes human rights principles and standards of ethical and humane conduct.
Also to be noted, is that the issue of mental health is also now at the forefront. We are not saying that the persons rescued in Arouca are suffering with their mental health. There is no word or evidence of this. But we have noted discussion in the public domain on this possibility, with some expressing concern that mental health remains a taboo topic. We agree. It is possible that some of these people are more in need of mental health care, instead of rehabilitation. Mental illness and addiction often overlap, and to treat one, the other needs to be addressed as well. If it’s one thing we hope this case emphasizes to Trinbagonians, is that we remain woefully ignorant of this aspect of human well-being and how to treat with it. We are still highly unsympathetic of persons with mental health issues, and are oftentimes quick to demonize them for it. This type of attitude is exactly why many people remain in denial about their own mental health. We as citizens need to become more open minded. We can’t be in the 21st Century with a backward mindset.