My First 100 Days: Reflections by new UNICEF Representative
One hundred days after coming to Jamaica to serve as UNICEF Representative and a spokesperson for Jamaican children, I thought it would be useful for me to share some of my reflections on the challenges and opportunities before us.
First and foremost, it is an absolute honour to represent UNICEF in Jamaica, and to work with a team of UNICEF staff who has worked tirelessly throughout decades of cooperation with the GoJ to ensure that the rights of children are protected and advanced. In meeting and interacting with our counterparts both in the government and within NGOs, I have been equally impressed with their dedication, commitment and technical capacity to address children’s issues.
I am heartened and inspired by many of the efforts I have seen on the ground, in schools and communities, driven by passionate frontline workers. From seeing the innovative ‘Bashy Bus’ in action to visiting schools and Youth Information Centres across the island, I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing first-hand some of the great work that’s being done. Much has been achieved, using lots of good ideas and creative approaches to make Jamaica one of the leaders in the Caribbean in developing a child-friendly island.
At the same time, I am deeply concerned about the myriad of problems and extreme violations of their rights which many children continue to face: from the crime and violence on the streets, to poor conditions at home, to the problems of quality in the classrooms. These conditions will no doubt be further complicated by the current global economic crisis and developing environmental deterioration of our earth.
Jamaica and the MDGs
While Jamaica is on track to achieving a number of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the notable lack of progress in some areas is disconcerting. Despite the high level of antenatal care received by pregnant women, far too many women are still dying before or during childbirth. In order to reach one of the targets of MDG 5, Jamaica will need to reduce its maternal mortality ratio (MMR) by ¾ before the year 2015. With the reported MMR of 95 deaths/100,000 live births not changing significantly in the last two decades, achieving this goal will take a concerted and accelerated effort.
It’s encouraging that access to school is not a major problem in Jamaica, putting the country on track towards achieving MDG 2. Yet we struggle to provide quality instruction. Many children are entering the workforce after completing a basic education without learning to read. Alarming statistics such as two-thirds of the labour force being functionally illiterate need to be addressed in-school through better classroom instruction as well as through out-of-school interventions. We need to ensure that more children not only learn to read but to think creatively, creating a better foundation for economic growth as well as democracy and improvement of living conditions.
In coming months and years, this will be a central tenet of the joint effort by the Ministry of Education and UNICEF to create more child friendly schools (CFS). A major emphasis of the CFS model is developing a teaching-learning environment that is based on child rights. One of the major efforts under the CFS concept, in keeping with every child’s right to be protected from all forms of violence, is the removal of corporal punishment at all levels of education and the introduction of positive alternative forms of discipline.
This is a significant departure from traditional disciplinary practices, and the ban will not successfully happen by decree. We are focused on building the capacity of teaching staff to use alternative methods and encouraging school-based professionals to model non-violent behavior in their daily interactions with students. Alternative means of discipline need to be shared with teachers and administrators through the development of materials, effective workshops and regular and systematic supervision to assist in this transition from acceptance of corporal punishment to a more child friendly classroom. This year we are embarking on a public education campaign to help ensure parents and families are getting the same messages. The change will be difficult but necessary.
As we continue to tackle MDG 6 related to HIV/AIDS, we need to keep a close eye on our efforts with young people in HIV/AIDS prevention and responsible reproductive health. Despite attempts to inform young people on healthy living, there is a noticeable increase in risky behaviors. The MoE is to be commended for its attempt to roll out the Healthy Family Life Education (HFLE) curriculum to all schools; however, this is just the first step in successfully developing awareness and knowledge and changing behaviors and practices.
Planning for Progress
Effective data collection and analysis is essential for better planning and targeting and will continue to be a priority for UNICEF. The work done to develop JAMSTATS, a repository of data concerning children based in the Planning Institute of Jamaica, has been impressive but more work needs to be done to fully operationalize this valuable tool. We also need to get more involved in analyzing and documenting the impact of the global economic crisis on children.
This will be a particularly busy and crucial year for UNICEF, as we undertake the Mid-Term Review of the five-year country programme of cooperation (2007-2011) between UNICEF and the GoJ. This is a time when the initial objectives of the programme are reviewed in order to assess what has been achieved and what has not, lessons learned and changes that need to be made to the programme. This process serves not only as a review of the current programme but is the first step to begin designing the new programme of cooperation (2012-2016).
These are challenging times, but also ones filled with hope and opportunity. Some would say it is hard to be a child these days – both in Jamaica and elsewhere around the world – and they would be right. However, it is also a very exciting time with innovative approaches being developed to assist in solving our most difficult problems. Many refer to children as being our future; I would also add that they are the present. Without urgent action backed with data and solid analysis, we will fail in our duties to our children. We cannot be complacent or hesitant. We can make a difference – yes, we can!