· Mr Darren Miller President, National Secondary Schools Students’ Council
· Dr Pauline Miller Chairman, National Child Month Committee
· Hon Douglas Orane Chairman & CEO Grace Kennedy Ltd
· Mr Errol Miller Chairman, LIME
· Mrs Sharon Edwards Project Manager, Council on Voluntary Social Services
· Members of the Media
· Ladies and Gentlemen
I am pleased to be here with you this morning to share in this the official launch of National Child Month 2011. I am particularly pleased at the talent displayed by our young people. Thank you.
You have selected a very profound and apt theme: Our children, Our world . .. their future . . . our responsibility. In so many ways, this is what our children are.
Can good fruits come from a bad tree? I doubt this strongly as the fruits that are produced are dependent on the provision, protection and environment of the tree. Our children are the fruits of our society and their success or the lack thereof is heavily dependent on us as parents, caregivers, and policy makers.
Unfortunately, we cannot deny the fact that our nation is in a state of social and emotional crisis. I keep myself reassured with the notion thatthere is nothing wrong with Jamaica that cannot be fixed with what is right with Jamaica.
Our country has come a far way in the strides that it has taken to protect and provide for our children. Many groups, agencies and organisations have played a critical role in lobbying and promoting the importance of incorporating the concerns of the child in aspects of health, education, legal and social sectors. For this we say thank you to them.
Over two decades ago, some 70 Heads of Government adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and this act has transformed forever, the world’s views on children. This Convention, which was ratified more quickly than any other international treaty in history, acknowledges that governments, caregivers and stakeholders must respect, promote and fulfill the rights of all children within the society. It outlines the rights of each child to survival; to develop to the fullest; to be protected from harmful influences, abuse and exploitation; and to participate fully in family, cultural and social life.
Here in Jamaica, we have had several initiatives aimed at protecting children. The JamaicaCoalition on the Rights of the Child, which was, established in 1989 as an umbrella body, played a pioneering role in promoting the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Over the years, we have had a number of improvements in the policy, legislative, intuitional and strategic planning framework affecting our children. These include:
· The Child Care and Protection Act which was passed in 2004.
· The Early Childhood Commission Act of 2003, which governs the administration of the Early Childhood Care, Education and Development in Jamaica. Its companion the Early Childhood Act was passed in 2005.
· The Early Childhood Commission and the Child Development Agency were established in 2004.
· The Office of the Children’s Advocate and the Office of Children’s Registry were set up in 2006 and 2007 respectively.
· The Trafficking in Person (Prevention Suppression and Punishment) Actwas passed in 2007.
Other policies and plans that emerged during the 1990’s include the National Youth Policy (1994), the Poverty Eradication Policy (1995, the National Policy on Children (1997), the National Plan of Action Policy for and Integrated Response to Children and Violence, and the National Parenting Policy (2008).
Unfortunately, in spite of these outward gains we are still challenged in many areas, and we are plagued with the reality of being vulnerable to external economic instability coupled with internal political shortcomings.
Our children are still faced with challenges based on our inability to put their concerns at the fore. A report from the CaribbeanChild Research Conference in 2010 indicated that violence remains the biggest threat to the welfare of Jamaican children, damaging every aspect of their lives through direct and indirect effects. Between January and July 2009, boys and girls aged 10-19 years accounted for 26.6% of all intentional injuries, 30% of all stab wound cases, 35% of all attempted suicides, 17% of all psychiatric cases and notably 61% of all Jamaicans who reported being sexually assaulted were(mainly girls).
Other studies have indicated that there are approximately 6,000 children who are living or working on the streets, and of the 1,406 persons reported missing in Jamaica in 2009, more than 900 were minors.
It is a painful truth that many Jamaican parents and guardians are neglecting their children and forcing them to fend for themselves at a very young age. We see them everyday at the stop lights and in the shopping plazas – hardened, professional beggars, out of school. These situations eventually put the children at risk as they become pawns for crime, sexual predators, and liable for physical and verbal abuse.
Unfortunately, the media, which are responsible for informing and educating our children, many times indirectly, also add to the pressure on our children. Our society has become so accustomed to the negative that newspapers will not sell if the contents are not sensationalized. Our newscast is no longer interesting if we do not hear of people being murdered. Our children are constantly being pressed and bombarded with negative content and we really must address this issue.
A Month ago the Peadeatric Association launched a campaign dubbed “Be wise supervise” at the Bustamante Hospital for Children. Because of the Manatt’s enquiry not one media house turned up at the Bustamante Hospital for the event. Two days later, two (2) Three (3) years old bodies were in the morgue died from drowning. One wonders if these two (2) parents had seen the Slogan if that unfortunate incident might have been prevented.
Believe it or not, these children will be tomorrow’s leaders and we need to ensure that we make the right preparations for them. Our morals and values are being bottled and stowed. We need to be more adamant about instilling core principles in our children. We cannot continue to leave their development to chance.
Their future; Our Responsibility
Jamaicais a country that is blessed with incomparable natural resources, chief among them is our children. They are our fruits of investment, when we make plans for the future, we usually hope and wish for the best, but the best can only be achieved if we put all the right facilities and services in place. We must walk the walk and talk the talk.
With all of the challenges faced there is still hope. At the end of the day, everyone of us has to participate in the healing, restoration and ultimately, the prosperity of this nation. Some of the challenges will have to focus on a revision of the Social Welfare system for our children. A recent report from UNICEF has suggested that we need to strengthen our resources that tend to the needs of children. This is inclusive of hospitals, NGOs, agencies and organisations that are specially committed to dealing with matters concerning children.
We also need to be cognizant of the importance of the provision of the rights of the child. This might be done through an ongoing media campaign where different sections of the Convention can be explained to the public in a way that will sensitize them about the rights of the child and the importance of restructuring our plans to accommodate their optimum development. Public education of our people is critical to the success of any program we plan to implement.
Jamaicaneeds to be reminded of the notion that parenting is a collective activity, and although the home is the first learning environment, the majority of learning and development comes from outside. Remember it takes a village to raise a child. I believe that units within the various organisations that deal with matters related to family need to be strengthened. It might also be useful to invest in programmes that deal with conflict resolution, safety in the homes and community. This might aid in the reduction of violence against children.
As a society, we need to raise the standards and increase the number of the professionals who deal with issues related to children. This also calls for the improvement in facilities that address these issues.
It is also our responsibility as a society to ensure that we create environments that are suitable to their development. Children are valuable and they are to be respected and treated so they can learn to impart the same values. We need to know their rights and ensure that they are protected by the law. We need not be silent and turn a blind eye to abuse and neglect; we need to be more proactive as citizens and parents.
Parenting is one profession that does not come with a manual; we are not taught how to be parents or caregivers. I think we need to reaffirm the notion of human rights, love for self, others and country. This might be done through social development programmes and initiatives.
Our children are precious. They are the future of this nation. Let us work towards providing the best for them. Remember, they are our responsibility.