Unicef reports on state of children in Dutch Caribbean

POSTED: 06/6/13 12:29 PM

Minister Jacobs: not an accurate picture

St. Maarten – Information disseminating from reports published by Unicef-Netherlands and Unicef-Panama through an independent agency tasked with research on the state of children and adolescents in the Dutch Caribbean, “has been quite conflicting,” Minister of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, Silveria Jacobs has said.

At a specially convened press conference yesterday, where education officials, the donor community and justice officials were present, Jacobs decried the fact that only 15 children were selected for interviews which could not have painted an accurate picture of the overall situation on St. Maarten. She stayed clear of describing the report as flawed but advised every reader of the report online, to consider the circumstances under which the research was conducted, before drawing conclusions.

Unicef’s findings, some of which are critical of the island’s handling of the rights of children, adolescents and women, has drawn the ire of several sections of society. United People’s Party MP drs. Gracita Arrindell has also suggested that the reports be brought to Parliament.

“Even in the Netherlands many of the islands were quite impressed with the growth that they have seen. We do know that there are challenges on St. Maarten that we have to address; the situation analysis shows us where those challenges are as well as the great progress we have made. On the other hand, 15 children were interviewed on all the islands, and based on what I have read; it was mostly geared towards children in the poorer communities, children who are in need. It would give a view as if that is how all the children on St. Maarten are, but that would be a fallacy because the majority of children on St. Maarten are not going through all of these things,” Minister Jacobs stated.

The Minister admitted that there however children on St. Maarten who face daily challenges such as sever hunger, the lack of educational opportunities, the absence of parental guidance, attention and neglect.

“These are things that we must address because if it is only one child, it is one child too much. Though understandably some challenges still exist, some of the recommendations mentioned in the report are actively being developed.”

Jacobs recalled that when researcher Bastiaan van’t Hoff of the Unicef office in Panama completed his research for the years 2011-2012 on health, immigration, youth and women’s rights here, and presented his findings in April, St. Maarten received positive ratings.

“Of all the islands in the former Netherlands Antilles, St. Maarten showed the most growth and had many advances in adhering to the Conventions on the Rights of Children and Youth.”

However when the head of Youth Affairs Shermina Powell-Richardson led a St. Maarten delegation to symposium in Leiden, Netherlands on Kingdom Children, St. Maarten received less than rave reviewed, along with its sister islands.

“They outlined that it is important to strengthen education rights and increase the supply of free highly qualified child care centers on the island. The child care centers on the island are private so the high quality that is necessary, they outlined it is important for us to look into that area,” Powell-Richardson reported.

Among the recommendations of the UN body were for solutions to be found to reduce school dropout rates, the implementation of a comprehensive protection system with an accompanying policy for domestic violence negligence and abuse and for an early warning system for children and adolescents in case of violations, to be installed. In this regard, Student Support Services Division recently conducted a workshop to train teachers in the development of signals for recognizing and reporting abuse, the Minister noted.

Unicef also wants St. Maarten to create a gender policy across all ministries, provide a unified model of secondary education to prevent further social fragmentation and create public schools to accommodate special needs children. The latter, Minister Jacobs explained is already a plan of her ministry, which will ensure the Belvedere School is completed by January 2014 and provides special needs education.

Powell-Richardson noted that more facilities also need to be created to legalize the situation of immigrants less than 18 years of age.

“Children cannot file for their documents without their parents because they are considered minors. We have seen that most of the times the children are jeopardized because of the non-legalization of immigrants,” she stated.

“There is a cultural pride involved; we teach our children to keep what happens in the house, in the house. This sort of allows things to continue without people knowing. We have a hard time getting parents to cooperate because they just don’t want people in their business, however detrimental it might be to the rights of that child,” Minister Jacobs added.

Survey sample

Elmora Pantophlet served as the liaison between Dutch researchers from Unicef-Netherlands and the 15 member survey sample.

“Unicef-Holland, decided to also do a report from the children’s point of view. They came to island and interviewed 15 children from each island. They were selected from various organizations, schools, areas etc. They were not all from one particular institution or district. They also mentioned that they were also interviewing youth from the islands that are living in the Netherlands to make up extra information. But we also thought that 15 was not a representative figure for the islands. Children speak from the heart so they took that information, analyzed it and came out with their report but then they made it seem like that information is fact in general,” Pantophlet said.

Jacobs said that in light of the circumstances under which the research was conducted, one of the recommendations was for St. Maarten to do its own research, which will be done.

Sifma head Angela Dekker, also joined Powell-Richardson in Leiden.

“This research is not the presentation of the governmental and non-governmental report to the Convention on the Rights of the Child but it is an initiative taken by Unicef in the Netherlands to give some more information on what is the status. We have to present our report and then we can be much more in-depth because in the past, you didn’t just interview some NGOs, you got the information from most of the NGOs on the island and also the government,” she stated.

During the presentation of the report at Maho last month, Dekker said that several pieces of inaccurate information were also observed.

“It was said that the curriculum in the schools is a Dutch curriculum and that is not true. But if they got that from some person, they placed it but did not verify this information with the Ministry of Education. Also they said that it is more than 35 children but we have in the law for Foundation Based Education, that the maximum is 28.”

Parents have to be more motivated to ensure that their children make the best use of compulsory education, she added.

Advances

Minister Jacobs highlighted some of the advances that St. Maarten has made towards the realization of the Rights of the Child such as universal access to education with the implementation of compulsory education up to age 18.

There has also been a decrease in the amount of children attending undocumented schools since immigration status is no longer a criterion for registering children in public schools.

A funding policy is also in place to ensure that the public and recognized school boards access funding from the 3.5 million guilders placed in the 2013 Budget for social funding. The Ministry is also focused on school transportation, second chance education, youth development programs, materials and Sifma Foundation’s early childhood education.

Still in process

Minister Jacobs said that increased accountability by Education and Inspection Departments to guarantee quality education and health as well as additional activities in the Art and Culture as well as Sports are still being worked on.

In September, the government plans to host a Round Table Conference with children and adolescents for them to discuss the present youth policy and evaluate key areas of development outlined in the policy.

The report from the Unicef Leiden symposium has already been booked in at the Ministry of General Affairs and if Parliament requests a presentation, Minister Jacobs said that it would have to await the reports of all of the representatives who attended the conference in the Netherlands.

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