“Are fifteen children a representative sample?” Minister Lourens and MPs criticize Unicef-report

POSTED: 09/6/13 4:54 PM

St. Maarten – The Unicef report about the situation of children and adolescents in St. Maarten drew fire from Education and Culture Minister Patricia Lourens as well as from several members of the Central Committee yesterday morning. The main question, the minister put forth is whether “fifteen children can be a representative sample of the life of children on St. Maarten” while the population in the age category 0 to 19 numbers 11,529. “A fifteen percent sample would have been more representative,” the minister said.

Such a sample would have entailed interviewing close to 1,730 children. The Unicef report however leans for a large part on interviews with 48 so-called “key-informants” – 25 from government and 23 from civil society. Among these key informants is Minister Lourens, who was interviewed in her capacity as head of educational research, policy, planning and innovations. Ironically, the minister is even listed twice among those interviewed.

The list includes Parliament President Gracita Arrindell, Ombudsman Arduin, Prime Minister Wescot-Williams, unionist Claire Elshot, Safe Haven director Loyola Seymonson and Cultural Center Director Urmain Dormoy.

Minister Lourens pointed out that there are limitations to the research methodology Unicef used and therefore also to the report. “Information from other sources was not verified, the report was first written in Spanish and then translated, there are no benchmarks to enable proper comparisons, fifteen children are not representative for the entire youth population, and some of the data are at least two years old,” the minister said.

What caught the attention of members of the Central Committee were issues like youth pregnancy rates, compulsory education, health care insurance and youth unemployment.

Independent MP Patrick Illidge spoke of a 37 percent youth unemployment. “More and more youths are unemployed. What is the intention to get our youth employed?”

NA-MP Lloyd Richardson noted that “every initiative has to do with money.” He alluded to the pressure on the healthcare system and the plan for a general health insurance that covers all citizens. “That has been postponed again and we probably won’t see it for the next two years. If someone comes here and accepts a job he is insured, but his kids probably are not. These reports demand insurance that cover everyone, but they also use the term solidarity. That means that you have to contribute. If I have contributed for fifty years and somebody else has contributed for two second, should he be entitled to the same rights? That is a difficult pill to swallow.”

Democratic Party MP Leroy de Weever expressed concerns about the high teen pregnancy rate. According to the Unicef report, 9 percent of all pregnancies are teens. De Weever dismissed the recommendation to establish affordable high quality day care centers. “We do not have the financial means to do this,” he said. The MP furthermore referred to the fact that many children with a Dutch side address attend school on the French side. De Weever also wanted to know how the government deals with the consequences of the introduction of compulsory education in 2009.

While the topic was clearly addressed by Minister Lourens, UP interim faction leader Sylvia Meyers-Olivacce remarked that ‘nowhere in this report do I see anything about teen pregnancy. This must be addressed.”

Independent MP Frans Richardson wants to know how many schools the country still has to build and how the education system deals with children living on the French side that hold a Dutch passport. He also wanted to know whether Minister Lourens intends to commission a report of her own. “In that case, go to the neighborhoods and see how people children live. Some of them are unable to pay for basic necessities like electricity and water.”

Following the lead of other MPs, MP George Pantophlet hit the money trail as well, saying, “it is a reality that the government cannot do everything.” Referring to the responsibilities of biological fathers to support their offspring, Pantophlet said, “I am not too familiar with the law, but I think it should be possible to have them pay retroactively.”

MP Roy Marlin took the report at face value: “It is what it is. We know we have these problems and that 9 percent of all pregnancies are teen pregnancies.” Marlin suggested the establishment of a family planning foundation and to devote time in the schools to this topic. “Shift 100,000 guilders in your budget for this. Maybe we’ll be able to bring the teen pregnancy rate down from 9 to 5.”

UP-MP Ruth Douglass referred to the family situation that gets children into trouble. “There are single parent families – legal and illegal. It is so much more difficult for illegals, because they fall through the cracks. With little education, they will do whatever to survive.”

NA-MP Louie Laveist asked for a copy of the integrated youth policy that saw the light of day under his supervision when he was Commissioner of Youth and Culture in 2006. Parliament President Gracita Arrindell would later point out that this policy had been sent to all MPs in December. Laveist also questioned the effectiveness of the Labor Office and the role it plays in helping youngsters find jobs.

NA-MP Hyacinth Richardson went to the moral high ground to address youth issues. “I believe in an old method. If a great number of our children are not attending Sunday School and church anymore then we are going to have some serious issues. The upbringing of that person in the standard of his beliefs is going to be a threat to our community. It is unbelievable to hear that some of them don’t believe in God. When I grew up everyone believed in God.”

UP-MP Jules James drew the attention to the increasing obesity-rate among young people. “If this is not addressed, our budget will be drastically burdened. Our youth will have to be geared more towards practicing sports.”

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