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Teen editorial from Jamaica: ‘Children have rights, too. Protect them!’

© UNICEF/2009/Bailey
Jaevion Nelson, author of a recent editorial on child rights in the Jamaica Observer, is a member of the Jamaica Youth Advocacy Network.

By Jaevion Nelson

Teen journalist Jaevion Nelson, a member of the Jamaica Youth Advocacy Network, wrote the following editorial, which appeared in the Jamaica Observer newspaper on 18 August. It is reprinted here as part of a series of stories in the run-up to the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

KINGSTON, Jamaica – Jamaica has been subject to human rights criticisms in regards to our level of intolerance for sexual diversity, poor rehabilitation facilities, an overburdened and inefficient judicial system, human security and the continued impunity of police officers and state representatives who commit crimes.

Two decades ago (1989), world leaders made a historic agreement through the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC), which acknowledges that governments, caregivers and stakeholders must respect, promote and fulfil the rights of all children within the society.

Internationally, this was the first instrument to incorporate civil, cultural, economic, political and social human rights. The convention outlined the rights of each and every child to survival; to develop to the fullest; to protection from harmful influences, abuse and exploitation; and to participate fully in family, cultural and social life.

Tragedy reveals dire situation
The tragedy which occurred on May 22 at the Armadale Juvenile Correctional Centre in St. Ann, where seven girls died and others were injured in a fire, has subsequently indicated gross negligence on the part of the authorities to sufficiently execute a duty of care owed to the occupants of this facility. This has intensified the debate on the status of children's homes and other state institutions.

The conditions under which the girls were reportedly placed to live are quite disheartening. The fact that security guards were allegedly unaware of the existence of fire extinguishers at the facility and were never engaged in a fire drill on property or during their training is alarming.

The unsanitary conditions which the occupants had to contend with, including prohibitions from using the bathroom at nights as there were limited correctional officers, highlights chronic deficiencies. The tragedy reveals a dire need for the protection of children's rights in such institutions, to aid in the realisation of their basic needs and the expansion of their opportunities to reach their full potential.

Progress and challenges
Jamaica has made significant strides in recognising children's rights by ratifying the CRC in 1991 and passing the Child Care and Protection Act of 2004. While this is commendable, significant efforts and far more work must be done to ensure laws, policies and programmes articulate that we are serious and committed to building a prudent, protective and enabling environment for the development of all our children.

The extent to which the Government and caregivers are held accountable to a child in relation to the Armadale tragedy is highlighted in Article 3.3 of the CRC, which encourages State parties to "ensure that the institutions, services and facilities responsible for the care or protection of children shall conform with the standards established by competent authorities, particularly in the areas of safety, health, in the number and suitability of their staff, as well as competent supervision."

Article 6 further states that "(1) State parties recognise that every child has the inherent right to life and (2) shall ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child."

‘Children’s rights are human rights’
Therefore, the State and relevant stakeholders have a responsibility to pay keen attention to the physical conditions of children's homes, employ and train professionals who can provide the kind of social care and protection children need, ensure all wards are enrolled in an educational institution and provide the necessary recreational services needed for the child's physical, spiritual, mental, moral and social development.

As young people, we must recognise the important role we play in good governance. We must encourage and make public officials accountable to children and youth, thereby ensuring that our rights are protected and advanced.

Our nation is in a serious state of ignorance and selfishness where too many of us young people are consumed with our own success and care little for the development of our country. Take responsibility for your growth and development by being positive models for other young people to follow. And on issues affecting youth, protest orderly and let your voice be heard until the Government and policymakers begin to not just pay attention but more importantly to do something about our concerns as young people.

We must sensitise all Jamaicans about the importance of children's rights. We must raise awareness that children's rights are human rights. As UNICEF emphasises, "children's rights are not special rights, but rather the fundamental rights inherent to the human dignity of all people".



Voices of Youth

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