JIS News

It is a pleasure to address you today at the launch of the 2006 State of the World’s Children Report. Against the background of the vicious and callous murder, rape and gross mistreatment of children over the past three weeks the state of Jamaica’s children cannot be considered to be at all satisfactory.
It may be an opportune time to remind ourselves that, as the Report says in its introductory chapter, “the survival, development and protection of children are no longer matters of charitable concern but of moral and legal obligation”. The government of Jamaica, having ratified the Convention of the Right of the Child, we are obliged to ensure that the public space is safe for children.
The Report being launched today addresses the plight of “excluded and invisible” children. Excluded, meaning children are deprived of social, economic, gender, cultural or other rights are unable to access the essential goods and services that to enable them to be fully participating members of society.
Invisible, meaning children are not recognised, not identified and for whom preparation of resources is non-existent. The world goes by as if they do not exist, literally.
Though the Report is global in scope, highlighting general trends with specific examples from country to country, it is useful, though unfortunate, to note that too many Jamaican children fall into this category of “excluded and invisible”. We have children who are vulnerable, on the edge of poverty, on the streets, abused, affected by violence and in conflict with the law, for whom daily life is literally a fierce struggle for survival. These children are unable to access and are therefore excluded from proper education, health care, proper nutrition, recreational facilities and even safety.
Children who are excluded, never develop their true potential and Jamaica loses as a result. How many potential Orlando Patterson’s, Asafa Powell’s, Bob Marley’s, Merlene Ottey’s are not able to achieve their potential because of childhood social and economic exclusion?
Though exclusion produces a range of negative consequences, some Jamaican children who are socially excluded are unable, in later years, to relate to others in socially productive ways and as a result find it difficult to function within society, depending on the nature and severity of the exclusion experienced. Some may develop anti-social behaviour patterns, resort to violence, and seek to inflict on others the pain they experienced while demonstrating a callous disregard for people.
While “pure benevolence” may be sufficient to motivate a few, by virtue of some of the social consequences of exclusion for society at large, enlightened self-interest should impel all Jamaicans to resist and dismantle the structures of social exclusion which continue to plague our society and its children. It is a basic human right, it is our legal and moral responsibility and we will all be the better for it.
The question that we need to ask ourselves is: what factors are responsible for such exclusion? And what measures need to be put in place and resources provided for inclusion?
I want to draw attention to the provision of goods and services and how we at times intentionally or otherwise contribute to exclusion.
When we provide services for the vulnerable, for example, how is it provided? Is it in such a way to preserve their dignity, self-worth and esteem, upholding at all times their basic human rights? Do we always recognise the value and the worth of the person in need? How do we talk to them? When they visit our service provision centres are they stigmatised which acts as a deterrent to them to access our services therefore contributing to exclusion? Are we making our public services accessible to all children or on an equal basis?
Are we responding to the needs of our children? Let us pause and consider our children impacted by HIV/AIDS for example. Are we excluding them by treating them with stigma and discrimination? Are there adequate programmes and services to meet their needs? At times the programmes themselves create a situation of stigmatisation. They are provided in such a way that no one wants access to them.
Issues of lack of confidentiality can foster exclusion. Can our adolescents with HIV/AIDS be assured of confidentiality so they can access the health service?
Children can also be excluded because of a lack of or inadequate information on goods and services which they can access and their rights to this access. Are we providing sufficient public education and sensitisation on benefits and services?We also exclude by inadequate provision of services.
One group that tends to be excluded by this shortfall in our provision of basic access and services is the group of persons with disabilities. What percentage of these children is screened for early detection and referred? How many of them now receive adequate education? Are we going to continue to allowChildren to be excluded and not to get the opportunity to develop to their full potential?
A parent of a child shared with me that the medication that her child needs to survive costs more than is available to her from her monthly salary. Yet due to her income bracket she does not qualify for social assistance. Furthermore none of the critical drugs needed by this family is on the National Health Fund list.
Data are needed on the extent of these challenges faced by parents of children with disabilities so proper policy recommendation can be made to allow for a favourable response.
Exclusion can be created by the violation of the rights of the child to be protected. We have had such terrible incidents of murder and rape of children in recent times as already mentioned by Mr. Bainveld.
We have reports of what happened in schools where violence has obstructed learning and threatened an environment, which should be safe for children.
Have we heard their cry? Who is responsible for their safety at school? It is too late for some of these children unfortunately but we need some speedy interventions to bring into visibility the vulnerable to prevent them from suffering the same fate as so many already.
Mothers, fathers, caregivers, can also contribute to the exclusion of their children. They send them to work instead of school, they allow their spouses to abuse them very often sexually and then say they cannot do without the economic benefit the partner provides
Can I pause here to beg our mothers not to exchange the protection of their children for a morsel of bread!!!!
We have to recognise the domino effect of exclusion and the vicious cycle it creates. Lack of access to good quality education, for example often leads to unemployment and poverty. Poorer households tend to have a larger number of children which may contribute to inadequate parenting, abuse and poverty and the cycle continues.
I commend the efforts of organisation working with children on and off the streets. Many are being taken off the street, integrated in an educational institution and/or reunited with their families.
Much of this work is being done in Montego Bay and Kingston. What of the other cities and towns of Jamaica? What group or groups of persons will be challenged to rise up and take these children off the streets?
Don Robotham, in an article in the Daily Gleaner, recommended a system of job placement and apprenticeship for our displaced and excluded youth. Which entrepreneur or businessperson is going to be bold enough to take on this challenge and provide opportunities for youth development?
Let us think for a moment how each one can contribute to create a Jamaica fit for children; a Jamaica where childrens’ rights are promoted and protected and where all children have the opportunity for a childhood and to develop to his/her full potential.
The Report that is being launched today challenges us to deal with the root causes of exclusion and the factors that make children invisible. Generally, the following factors are associated fostering the risk of social exclusion for children in Jamaica:
Poor living standards and conditions
Lack of access to quality early year provisions
Poor educational access and achievement
Poor health
Disabilities
Poverty
Inadequate provisions for safety and protection
Lack of access to justice
Discrimination of all kinds.
We have to deal effectively with these factors which ontribute to exclusion and not simply treat the symptoms. Otherwise we will not be successful in eliminating social exclusion and its long-term consequences.
My heart tore on Saturday as I read the story of the toddler being beaten to death. A two year old suffered and died. While the full force of the law should be applied to the abuses, we also need to understand the underlying factors leading to or resulting in this abuse to prevent any such future occurrence.
We need to pay closer attention to our programming and services to ensure there are no entry barriers in order to eliminate exclusion and invisibility we need to:
Work together in partnership: government, civil society and international development partners
Ensure resources are in place to support our efforts
Get rid of our divisions whether built on socio-economic status, politics, religious affiliations or any other factor
Eliminate discrimination and promote tolerance and mutual respect
In doing research for this address today I came across some interesting pieces of information and some best practices from which we could learn. One was having a Social Exclusion Unit in he Office of the Deputy Prime Minister in the U K. This was set up specifically to identify and tackle social exclusion wherever it exists and to improve public services for the most disadvantaged. Madam designate Prime Minister I have one suggested change to this – I would call it the Social Inclusion Unit charged to tackle the scourge of social exclusion and promote the reintegration into society of those that are already excludes and marginalized.
Successfully tackling social exclusion in Jamaica would result in the following positive indicators:
Reduction of the number of children living in poverty
Increase in the number of children in decent housing
Increase in educational attainment
Improved targeting and services in health
Improved opportunities for children with different abilities especially those with disabilities
More support for parents and families
The creation of a protective environment for children and their families
A dream, yes a dream, which like the dream of Martin Luther King will one day become a reality in Jamaica Land we love !!!!