Caribbean Convenes Special Meeting for Children
CARICOM Council for Human and Social Development to Map Regional Action Plan on Children’s Issues
GEORGETOWN, 17 March 2008 – Caribbean leaders today began a three-day period of deliberation that could make an enormous difference in the lives of children and the future of the region.
The Twelfth Special Conference of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Council for Human and Social Development (COHSOD), taking place 17-19 March in Georgetown, Guyana, is fully dedicated to issues affecting children.
“Building a Region Fit for Children” will make a sweeping assessment of the progress and gaps in the regional investments in children over the last six years, measured against a framework of action agreed on at the first COHSOD special session on children in 2002.
“The special COHSOD on children sends a strong and collective signal that Caribbean countries are putting children exactly where they deserve to be ― at the heart of the Caribbean Single Market Economy,” said Nils Kastberg, UNICEF’s Regional Director for the Latin America and Caribbean, speaking from Guyana.
The Caribbean has made significant strides for children since its nations gained independence, most notably in the provision of health care and education. Immunization rates are frequently above 90 per cent and the region has maintained high enrolment rates.
Government Ministers from CARICOM countries and other high-level representatives are putting their heads together at the COHSOD to exchange and explore ways to build on these and other achievements in an era where Caribbean children are faced with increasingly difficult challenges including violence and climate change.
Caribbean childhood is often stained by violence, including rape and physical abuse disguised as discipline. Globally, the Caribbean has the highest rate of murder and armed violence, and the highest rate of homicides among 15-17 year olds, with boys six times more likely to become victims than girls. The proliferation and misuse of small arms and light weapons in the Caribbean is also having a devastating impact on children.
The rape and sexual exploitation of young girls – an issue still surrounded by a thick and stubborn wall of silence – contributes to the Caribbean having the second highest rate of teenage pregnancies in the world.
National averages that boast high school enrolment rates and other accomplishments mask the reality that large numbers of children are still denied their right to a quality education. Despite the promising news that the HIV epidemic has stabilized in several countries, the region still struggles with the second highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rates in the world.
Kastberg said UNICEF, which played a key role in the organization of the special COHSOD, stands ready to build on its longstanding relationship with CARICOM, one that has seen significant investments over the last five years in early childhood development, child protection, HIV prevention and adolescent development programmes across the region.
UNICEF has consistently called on governments across the region to make broader social investments in children. Kastberg said there are new and exciting opportunities which Caribbean countries need to seize, particularly in nations that have recently ushered in a new administration and which have taken up UNICEF’s challenge to allocate more resources to children.
At this special COHSOD, for the first time ever, children from across the region will directly address their leaders and challenge them to grasp the opportunities they have to change children’s lives and to help build a new sense of Caribbean identity.
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