|© UNICEF Guyana/2009|
|Guyanese youths enrolled in a UNICEF-supported programme at the New Opportunity Corps receive skills training and psycho-social support.|
By Carina Olthof and Leslyn Thompson
In the run-up to the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child – a landmark international agreement on the basic human rights of all children – UNICEF is featuring a series of stories about progress made and challenges that remain. Here is one of those stories.
GEORGETOWN, Guyana, 9 July 2009 – Carletta is just 16, but she has already confronted many challenges and brutalities in life. She ran away from home several times and became involved in dangerous activities. Eventually, her father, a single parent, realized he was no longer able to cope with her behaviour.
A year ago, Carletta’s father requested that police officers place her in a juvenile rehabilitation centre – the New Opportunity Corps (NOC).
Since her admittance, Carletta has become immersed in a new life at NOC. She plays games and sports with friends in the yard and learns practical skills that will make her more employable after leaving the centre.
But Carletta still faces challenges, such as her uncertainty about mending her relationship with her family.
“I didn’t hear from my father, my mother, no one, for the whole year I have been here at NOC,” she says. “Many nights I lay in bed wondering if my father is still working or if he is still alive.”
‘A better life for myself’
Carletta is one of 62 students who are scheduled to be released from NOC in October. The first thing she plans to do is apologize to her father, but because she is so ashamed of her behaviour, she plans to live with her mother instead.
And Carletta is determined to improve her prospects in life, which she plans to do by enrolling in school.
“I want to learn more and go to computer classes,” she says. “I really want to make a better life for myself, and now that I spent some time here, I know just how to do that.”
Improving juvenile justice
The UNICEF-supported integration programme at NOC will guide Carletta through the process of re-uniting with her parents and reintegrating into her community. Though she remains haunted by her past, she feels her experiences have helped her to become the mature teenager she is today – and she is grateful to have a second chance.
Carletta's story highlights one facet of UNICEF's ongoing efforts to support a humane juvenile justice system in Guyana. UNICEF aims to ensure that by 2010, in accordance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, there is a system in place that ensures protection for children who are witnesses to crime, and fair treatment for those in conflict with the law.
Article 40 of the Convention states that children who are accused of breaking the law have the right to legal counsel and fair treatment in a justice system that respects their rights.
To this end, UNICEF Guyana has helped with institutional and legal reform (notably, the Juvenile Justice Bill of 2008) and has supported access to quality social services for at-risk youth, including health education, psycho-social support and legal aid.
UNICEF also actively promotes the use of alternatives to sentencing, such as community service work, skills training and participation in sport-for-development activities.
CRC @ 20