NOTES FOR GREETINGS TO BE READ BY BISHOP THE HON. DR. CARMEN STEWART, OJ, OD CUSTOS ROTULORUM FOR THE PARISH OF ST. ANDREW AT THE CHILDREN AT RISK CONFERENCE ON BEHALF OF HIS EXCELLENCY THE GOVERNOR-GENERAL TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 17, 2009 JAMAICA PEGASUS HOTEL

“Children at risk…a Caribbean Church Response”

Introduction

Their Excellencies the Most Hon. Sir Patrick Allen and the Most Hon. Lady Allen extend apologies that they are unable to be present at this the opening session of your three-day conference.  His Excellency the Governor-General has asked me to present greetings on his behalf.

I now read the Governor-General’s greeting.

I warmly greet delegates attending the conference and extend a special welcome to those persons who travelled from other countries in the Caribbean and as far away as the Philippines and Indonesia, to share their knowledge and experience.

The Church and children

Over the next three days you will examine and ultimately formulate a Caribbean response and strategy for addressing concerns related to ‘at risk children.’ The security and well being of children are often times undermined by poverty, violence and abuse.  These and other associated factors continue to perpetuate the existence of pockets of child underdevelopment within our countries.  The Church must continue to lead by example and intensify its commitment to the welfare of children and the creation of a values-based society in which every child is nurtured in an environment of love and happiness.

The reality is that more needs to be done to secure the welfare and well- being of our children.  As Christians, we have the example of Jesus Christ from Luke 18 vs. 16 when His disciples were told: “Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not, for such is the Kingdom of God.” Mark 10 vs. 16 tells us that Christ: “… took the children in His arms, put His hands upon them and blessed them.” The lesson to us is that children should not be hindered from coming to Christ and knowing the love of God.  Rather, they should be brought up and nurtured by loving communities of faith.  Jesus grew from childhood to manhood within the shelter and nurture of a faith-based family and community.  By taking children into his arms, he pronounced them full members of the family of God and affirmed them as being among the most cherished of mankind.

Over the next few days many speakers will share their perspectives on the vulnerable factors for children at risk and what various organisations including the family and the role of the state can do to address the concerns.  I trust that the workshops and plenary sessions will not only highlight some of the problems, but what will emerge, are practical and spiritual inspired solutions for the mental, social, physical development of our children.

Pervasiveness of risks

As stated in your letter of invitation, the wave of abuse directed at children has reached alarming proportions and has become a matter of grave concern in Jamaica and across the region.  Children face vulnerable situations at school, in their homes and the wider community.

A study by the Pan-American Health Organisation conducted between 1997 and 1999 in nine countries across the Caribbean, revealed that a disheartening number of children had witnessed a physically violent act at some point in their lives.  The figures for Jamaica for example show that 78.5 per cent of students observed an act of violence in their community.  Another 60.8 per cent have had this experience at school and 44.7 per cent at home.

The same study also revealed that the homicide rates in the Caribbean were twice as high when compared to the rest of the world.  It noted that the involvement of youth as perpetrators and victims of crime was also prevalent.  Across the region, especially in Haiti and Jamaica, there are also a growing number of children who live and work on the streets.  They are among the most vulnerable and are exposed to violence on a daily basis.

The statistics presented here hardly conveys a picture of a caring and nurturing environment for the safe upbringing of children.  It is far remote from the environment Paul intended when he cautioned fathers (parents) to:  “…provoke not your children to wrath, but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4)

I therefore commend the many faith-based organisations and institutions involved in promoting child development for not only calling attention to this problem, but also for working to find spiritual solutions.  Your decision to meet in this fashion demonstrates your commitment to ensuring that as the love of Christ is manifested in the Church, so too must we create an enabling environment in which His love can also be revealed in the way we love, care for and nurture our children.

I believe that if each participant commits to continue as an effective link in the chain of disciples that are ready to be at the forefront of rescuing our children and reversing their vulnerable situations, we would have lit a candle for the world to see.

The Church, your nation countries, and your God are waiting for you to provide solutions for transforming the lives of our children in faith-based and loving communities and families.

Best wishes and abundant blessings in your work.