Opinion: Fifteen children (Unicef Report)

POSTED: 09/6/13 5:01 PM

The discussion about the Unicef-report that describes the situation of children and adolescents in St. Maarten received the traditional Pavlov-reaction from both Education and Culture Minister Patricia Lourens and several Members of Parliament. The bottom-line: the report is based on interviews with fifteen children and that sample is a bit on the small side for a country with an under 19 population of a bit more than 11,500.

Minister Lourens even said that a sample of 15 percent would have been ‘more representative” without adding that this would have meant close to 1,730 interviews.

But is this what really happened? The Unicef-report gives a clear explanation of the methodology that was used to compile the report.

Unicef first identified a counterpart team in the Youth and Sports Directorate. The researchers paid three visits to St. Maarten. The first one was in November 2011, the second one in February 2012 and the third one in august of that year.

To gather information the researchers used in-depth interviews with “key players that have privileged information and experience in the field.” So the researchers identified those players – the famous list of 48 local sources that were used. In fact, there were 47, because minister Lourens features twice on the list.

The researchers did what they call “the mapping of actors” – which we take to be an outline of the sources to be used for the study – during their first visit.

Did they do this all on their own? No siree: they held a focus group with local civil society organizations and state agencies to identify the list of key sources for the in-depth interviews. Nobody talks about interviewing fifteen children, because those interviews were added later to offer some perspectives from the children’s points of view.

What happened to the list of candidates for the in-depth interviews? The researchers discussed it with the Youth and sports directorate. And this department approved the list.

In other words: the basis for the Unicef-report is built on local sources and those local sources have been selected in consultation with the Youth and Sports Directorate.

Apparently the Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth and Sports is unhappy with what the researchers found and now they blame the result on the assumption that everything is based on interviews with fifteen local children.

A closer look at the sources the researchers accessed shows that 52 percent of them were “high up in the state decision-making process or representatives of implementing institutions such as department heads of specialized children and education units.” Other sources were the Chamber of Commerce, parliament and organizations dealing with the protection of rights.

The remaining 48 percent come from a non-governmental background: unions, academics, school teachers, foundation directors and individual citizens.

Nor could the ministry be surprised about the report’s contents: the researchers presented a preliminary report to Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams, Education Minister (at the time) Silveria Jacobs and the directors of the Youth and Sports Directorate. In other words: there was plenty of opportunity to voice concerns about the way the report came about.

But when the report was presented, Minister Jacobs expressed the same concern as her successor Patricia Lourens: only fifteen children were interviewed.

Let it be clear that this remark has nothing to do with the price of tomatoes in Dominica or with the content of the report. The remark is solely meant to divert the attention from the real content and the real issues the Unicef-report has put on the table.


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