The Daily Herald reports that the UNICEF Netherlands report on the situation of children in the Caribbean part of the Kingdom of The Netherlands received full attention this week through a series of events organized surrounding the visit of UNICEF representative Karin Kloosterboer. The report presented to Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Minister Ronald Plasterk on May 23 summarizes findings from interviews on all the six Dutch Caribbean islands.
On Monday, Kloosterboer made a presentation of the report’s findings to the Executive Council. This was followed by a guest lecture for teachers and students at the Saba Comprehensive School. One of Kloosterboer’s main goals during this visit was the attempt to create awareness about the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and to engage the input of local professionals working with youth in a monitoring process with both a short-term and a long-term strategy for improving the situation.
A “train the trainer” workshop was hosted by the Child Focus Foundation and the Saba Center for Youth and Family staff with the facilitation of Caribbean Netherlands Government Service (RCN). A further full-day “Conference for Collaborating Partners” took place Tuesday, bringing together representatives of all community based organizations involved in protecting and promoting children’s rights on Saba.
The evaluation and discussions with input from all participants led to a more in-depth understanding of the Saba specific challenges with regard to child protection. Lt. Governor Jonathan Johnson officially opened the conference remarking on the community’s primary responsibility in securing a safe and nurturing environment. He noted: “The island government is not the competent authority to pass such a law (the banning of corporal punishment), but the national government.”
Exposure to household violence was one of the childrearing bottlenecks highlighted by the discussions combined with the common absence of positive male role-models in the upbringing of the child. Awareness about the rights of the child and the responsibilities of caregivers still needs to be addressed through an intensive coordinated campaign that explicitly outlines the consequences of neglect, of verbal, physical or sexual abuse of the child. Clear mandates of who is in charge of overseeing what is the main obstacle on Saba, where the human capital and institutional capacity exist.
The participants discussed various attempts of community based organizations in creating a coordinated platform but expressed the need of having the island government directly involved in publicly sanctioning such efforts. In addressing child safety concerns most participants voiced support for a long-postponed crisis shelter, an apartment where any child or a battered family member could be hosted pending professional evaluation and conflict resolution. Such a shelter would prevent additional trauma inflicted on the child during the current procedure of transferring the victim to a different island removing it from familiar surroundings and ties. It is expected that such a centre could be accommodated via the social housing community developments on Saba.
The conference outlined progress made in addressing special education needs as well as enhancing a Saba specific cultural and language identity. While afterschool programmes have received much government attention a swimming pool for children is still missing on the island. With regard to the health of children, much is being done on Saba on parental counselling for the child’s early development, but a cohesive approach is still needed in assisting parents with teenage youth and involving youth’s participation in community events. A comprehensive look at the local financial burdens placed on parents, often single-parents, was extensively discussed compared with the lower cost of living in the European part of the country. Absence of data collection was a recurrent theme within all the discussed areas of the CRC.
With regard to quantifying household poverty, participants expressed dismay that the national government is not able to gauge the challenge and issue credible data or provide a strategy to address it on a comparable basis to the minimal standards of the European part of the country. Saba has little over 340 children, not an insurmountable data-collection burden. Data availability is a major weakness of the current UNICEF report based more on interviews and consultations with at least 300 experts. The findings thus provide a subjective understanding of the challenges faced in promoting the children’s best interests on the island.
These weaknesses were voiced in a town-hall meeting Tuesday evening, also held in the Child Focus building. Participants also wanted to know how data collection was performed and if monitoring will occur, what resource allocations are made for such and when a follow-up report would occur.