Caribbean Ministers Commit to Improve the Lives of the Region’s Children
Georgetown, Guyana, March 17-19, 2008 - At the end of a three-day meeting in Guyana, Ministers of the CARICOM member states agreed to a programme of action aimed at improving the wellbeing of all children within the Caribbean community.
This second ‘Special Session on Children’ of the CARICOM Council of Human and Social Development (COHSOD) was called to assess progress made since 2002 on those areas that especially affect children: Early Childhood Development, Child Protection, HIV and AIDS, and Infant and Maternal Mortality.
In a far-reaching document titled The Georgetown Declaration, the delegations committed themselves to helping children realize their rights as enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Among the many issues addressed, delegates agreed initiatives to improve the quality of early childhood care, education and development services - in particular for vulnerable and marginalized Children; to strengthen protection for children at home, school and in the community; to help both boys and girls stay in school and reach their full potential.
While the Declaration focused on those issues that immediately affect children, such as protection, child and infant mortality, health and education, it also mentioned the impact of global forces such as climate change and its effects upon the most vulnerable. Note was also taken of the need to help children improve their communities through the use of new media and information technology.
The need for action to help the region’s children was made clear on the first day. Addressing the opening session, UNICEF Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, Nils Kastberg, said the timing of this COHSOD session was especially significant as “we are at a crossroads - just past halfway to 2015” … the target date set for the realization of the Millennium Development Goals.
According to Mr. Kastberg, children in the Caribbean region face a multitude of growing challenges. The region has the world’s highest rate of homicides among 15-17 year olds, with boys six times more likely to be victims than girls; girls are often the victims of sexual violence, partly contributing to Latin America and the Caribbean having the world’s second highest teenage pregnancy rate; the region also presents the highest rate of global gun crime – 42% of the world’s homicides. While progress has been made in some key areas including education, it is clear much more needs to be done if the region is to achieve the MDGs.
The opening session was also addressed by young people from the Caribbean. Organised by UNICEF, child delegates from Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago and Suriname read a joint statement calling on the CARICOM states not just to talk, but to make the necessary changes to support the region’s children. “… we experience injustices such as sexual, physical and verbal abuse, unavailability of good quality and affordable education, and the stifling of our voices” they told the delegates. ‘Children have the right to be heard.”
The youth statement called on the ministers not to just shut their eyes and hope young people will go away. “We may be powerless now”, they said, “but in a few years we’ll be the ones sitting in your seats and making the decisions. Give us a foundation that you would be proud of … We demand from you a Caribbean that is safe … a Caribbean that can contribute to a world that is fit for us – your children.”
Part of the second day was given over to young journalists from Suriname, Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago who presented the conference with a range of video work, produced solely by children, using new technology called The Digital Playground. The children were given the following limitations: the stories must be one minute in length; they must be completed within one hour … and there must be no help from professionals.
The resulting short videos were presented to the delegates and covered a wide range of issues including: juvenile marriage (moral: wait until you finish your education!); teenage pregnancy; equal and easy access to health services; child sexual abuse and protection. Delegates congratulated the youth journalists on their presentations which received generous applause.
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