© UNICEF Office for Eastern Caribbean Area/2009/Asael
Children from a primary school in Antigua

Despite their middle to high income status and their favourable human development rankings by the United Nations Development Programme and the World Bank, Eastern Caribbean countries are characterized by high levels of poverty and inequality and significant levels of unemployment.

Government responses are constrained by reliance on narrow economic bases that are susceptible to developments in the international sphere and by the need to service high levels of public debt - most of which exceed prudential guidelines.

The progress of Eastern Caribbean countries towards achievement of the children and women’s rights stipulated in the CRC, CEDAW and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) has been mixed. Significant progress has been made in some areas, while many outstanding gaps remain in others.

Many of the countries have not realigned their national policies and laws with the CRC, although OECS Model Family Legislation has been produced to assist countries with the harmonisation of national laws with the CRC. The majority of countries have also not signed, or ratified, the two Optional Protocols to the CRC on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict and on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography. In addition, some countries are not fully compliant with their reporting responsibilities under the Convention.


Child Health

The indicators for the survival rights of children are generally good most of the countries. The main problems currently affecting the health status of children in the sub region are the low birth weight, low incidences of exclusive breast feeding of babies less than six months old and nutritional deficiencies.

These problems have been caused mainly by the lack of an enabling environment to support early initiation of prenatal care for pregnant teenagers; socio economic policies and conditions which lead to the early return of mothers into the work force; and poverty and lack of knowledge which compromise good nutritional practices.

Maternal Health

Maternal indicators are also generally good, but there are other problems negatively affecting the health of women. These include chronic lifestyle diseases like diabetes, hypertension, obesity, HIV and AIDS, as well as domestic violence. Anecdotal evidence suggests the main contributing factors are poverty and lack of knowledge, which lead to poor lifestyle choices and the historical social and economic dependence of women on men, increasing their vulnerability to sexual and physical abuse.


Early Childhood Development

There are significant gaps in the availability, access and quality of early childhood services across the Eastern Caribbean. These include early stimulation, development monitoring with early intervention and early childhood education. These gaps are mainly as a result of an absence of policy frameworks and initiatives to guide the development of the sector.

Primary Education

Primary Education is universal throughout the region thus attaining MDG 2. However, the lack of remedial teaching, early detection and specialized programmes for children with learning disabilities and the continued use of corporal punishment as a form of discipline are problems currently being encountered in the region.

The primary school education sector also lacks a comprehensive strategy to address the varying academic abilities and interests of all students, which could lead to underperformance.

Secondary Education

Access to secondary education has generally increased in the region over the past decade, with many countries providing universal access. Despite this achievement, there are weaknesses in secondary education which are reflected in the limited ability of the secondary schools to produce graduates who are capable of progressing to tertiary level education and who can be successfully integrated into the job market.

The main contributing factors are the absence of a comprehensive strategy to address the varying academic abilities and interests of all students and the lack of responsiveness of the education system to the dynamic environment in which students operate.

Tertiary Education

Access to tertiary education in the region is limited and enrolment is consequently low. This reflects the inability of the governments to finance tertiary education at the levels required.

Adolescents at Risk

Adolescents face many challenges growing up within the Eastern Caribbean. These challenges include early initiation of sexual activity and its consequences, male marginalization, mental health issues, obesity, alcohol and drug abuse, and migration.

The underpinning causes of these problems include a cultural norm of early initiation into sexual activity; lack of clear public policy on education for teenage mothers, girls and boys with disabilities and migrants; inability of stakeholders to develop and implement a successful strategy to address the issue of male marginalization; lack of systematic programmes aimed at identifying and assisting all children in crisis both in the short and long term; poverty; and the absence of a public policy on food and nutrition.


A significant number of children in the region are exposed to various kinds of abuse and exploitation, including sexual abuse; neglect and abandonment; physical abuse as a means of discipline; child labour; and child trafficking. The juvenile justice system is also inadequate and mitigates against the possibility of rehabilitation of young offenders.

Factors contributing to these problems include a culture of acceptance of early initiation into sex; the weak administration of justice on sexually related matters which discourages reporting and prosecution of sex offenders; weak support systems for handling perpetrators and victims of child abuse; lack of an effective truancy policy to mitigate against children being out of school; poverty; and the absence of a child friendly policy on migrant children.

Attempts to reform the juvenile justice systems to bring them in line with international norms and standards have not made much progress in recent years.


Active participation of children in decisions affecting their personal lives is minimal. The use of Students’ Councils and Activity Clubs in the school system has seen only limited participation from students and opportunities for participation of adolescents through Government Ministries/Departments of Youth have not had widespread success.

This is primarily because of cultural norms which do not actively encourage participation in the early childhood years or during adolescence. Such norms are reflected in the inadequate administration of the school-level opportunities and a weak institutional and administrative base for coordinating youth work at the national level.





Social Policy Mapping Database for Children in the Eastern Caribbean

Situation Analysis of Children and their Families in the Eastern Caribbean

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