The United Nations Children’s Fund UNICEF office in the Netherlands sent a letter to various Dutch ministries on Thursday to remind them of the urgent need to improve children’s rights in the Dutch Caribbean. In the letter, Karin Kloosterboer and Marc Mark Wijne of UNICEF Nederland urged the Ministries of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations BZK, Public Health, Wellbeing and Sports VWS, Social Affairs and Employment SZW, Education, Culture and Science OCW and Finance to work together to eradicate the backlog in the area of children’s rights on the islands. Copies of the letter were sent to the Permanent Committee for Kingdom Relations of the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament and to the Island Governments. Kloosterboer and Wijne used the occasion of three years after the historical date of October 10, 2010, the date on which the new constitutional relations in the Dutch Kingdom went into effect, to update the ministries on the progress of the improvements of children’s rights in the Caribbean part of the Kingdom and to point out the abuses in this area.
Various ministries have responded to the six reports on the rights of children in the Dutch Caribbean that UNICEF presented in May this year. The ministries said they were aware of the situation of children’s rights in the Dutch Caribbean and the violation of a number of these rights, and acknowledged that there was room for improvement. According to UNICEF, there is an urgent need to tackle the situation of children’s rights. Children are growing up in violent, unsafe and unhealthy situations, often living in poverty, while parents are facing an increased cost of living. A joint approach of the ministries, among themselves but also with the island governments, is necessary to eradicate the backlog where it concerns children’s rights. “We hope that this letter will inspire you to come to a joint approach that will underscore the seriousness and urgent nature of this matter,” Kloosterboer and Wijne stated.
The UNICEF representatives focused on the Dutch public entities Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba, for which the Netherlands is responsible, but they also mentioned the importance of children’s rights on Aruba, Curaçao and St. Maarten, which are autonomous countries in the Kingdom. “Together also has to be the motto for these three islands. There too children have only one chance at growing up. A true Kingdom cares for all of its children.”
Looking back at the various sessions that were held on Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba, Kloosterboer and Wijne concluded that everyone wanted to work together to improve children’s rights to make things better for the islands’ children. However, it has been proven impossible to comply with the International Treaty of the Rights of Children because a number of basic needs are lacking on the islands. These needs include social economic needs of children whose parents are struggling to survive on a low income and the insufficient capacity to offer troubled families structural help.
UNICEF is also concerned about the lack of monitoring of areas that affect the youth: education, health, safety and the situation at home/raising of children. “UNICEF fears that in a couple of years, it still will be unclear how many children grow up with both their parents, on what scale violence takes place and what the exact story is on school dropouts.” There are several possibilities to solve these issues. However, it all starts with the recognition that children on Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba have the same rights as their peers in the Netherlands. “The Council for Human Rights is very clear on this in its advice.”
According to UNICEF, parents should be able to raise their children with an adequate standard of living, with financial assistance where needed, proper day care facilities and a healthy housing situation. “Children’s rights cannot be proven as long as no radical and structural improvements can be realised in these areas.” Capacity, knowledge and empowerment are needed on the islands to improve assistance to parents and children, and to tackle violence. However, to even get to that, it is important for everyone to understand that it is bad for children to be hit, screamed at, neglected or ignored, stated Kloosterboer and Wijne. The UNICEF representatives called for the setting up of a monitoring and evaluation system in the different areas, starting with, for example, an elaborate census. “Children have to become visible.”