Youth Parliamentarians grill adults on rights of the child

POSTED: 12/11/13 6:40 PM

St. Maarten – Eager to get answers on the UN convention on the rights of the child, The St. Maarten Youth Parliament held a meeting last week at Parliament. Before handing over the floor to her youth counterpart, President of Parliament Gracita Arrindell wished the youngsters much success. “I know they have been very active.” Members of Parliament also sat in the public gallery to follow the meeting.

The theme for the meeting was how the UN convention on the rights of the child applies here on St. Maarten, in particular article 7 and 8 of the declaration.

Article 7 states: You have the right to go to school for free, to play, and to have an equal chance to develop yourself and to learn to be responsible and useful.

Article 8: You have the right to always be among the first to get help.

The Youth parliamentarians were explained how the island’s civil code regulates these articles on the island as part of the international treaties regulating the welfare of children worldwide. They were curious to know how the UN convention was practically applied on St. Maarten and were given extensive and detailed answers from Richelda Emmanuel of the Court of Guardianship and Minister of Health and Labor Cornelius de Weever, who also sat in and weighed in on the discussion.

He mentioned that these issues did not necessarily fall under his ministry but more specifically under the Ministry of General Affairs and the Ministry of Justice, although there is considerable overlap and practical consequences for his ministry. The youth French counterparts of Youth Territorial Council also sat in on the meeting.

The young MPS were full of questions, at times sharp and incisive, causing smiles from the adults being questioned. The adults, however, reminded them of the price tag that comes with fulfilling all of the international obligations that St. Maarten is heir to as a constituent country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands and its international obligations. Minister De Weever said that while it would be ideal to live up to every convention, being a small country, however, St. Maarten has to be practical and prioritize its budgetary expenses.

Emmanuel said one of the big challenges for children of illegal parents on St. Maarten is that they are sometimes intimidated by the process of registering their child’s birth of being deported. She said that registering a child’s birth does not mean the child is a resident, nor is it connected with the parents’ legal status, but rather a document the parents need to use in order to give the child a nationality. They have to go to respective consular reps to register their child’s nationality, Emmanuel explained.

She also explained to the young MPs how the Court of Guardianship worked, and the obligations and responsibilities that parents have toward their children. If they do not live up to those obligations, the court steps in and requests a judge to take the necessary actions in looking after the interests of the child.

Often times on St. Maarten, she said, there are children born who don’t even know who their biological fathers are. But there are laws that regulate this, that make a father (or mother) legally responsible for half the costs of rearing a child. The child has the right to know who their biological parents are. Emmanuel, herself the product of single parenthood, went into the detailed scenarios about how and when the Court of Guardianship intervenes in the interest of a minor.

She said they are also present in divorce proceedings to look out for the wellbeing of the child. They call in the parents and try to establish visitation schedule. The first responsibility lies with biological parents. If not, there where the court of guardianship can intervene and take away the authority of parents to ensure the wellbeing of minor.

So far for the year, there have been 14 cases where the court had to remove youngsters from their parents in order to protect them. If a minor gives birth, the minor cannot take authority over the child. A judge is asked to seek guardianship, and it’s mostly grandparents who assume responsibility. And so far for this year there have been 11 cases of this type.

One interesting question was if a parent gave a child a name that is derogative or absurd, does the Court of Guardianship have the right to intervene? Emmanuel said that it in fact can, and will suggest another name. The court and a judge she explained always try to look out for what is in the best interests of the child.

Minister De Weever wanted to point out at the end, that as far as he knew, there have been “no known cases of the medical center refusing children, whether documented or undocumented.”

At the end President of Parliament Gracita Arrindell congratulated the youngsters. “You will do an excellent job in the Kingdom Youth Parliament in 2014. You are very serious and will make St. Maarten proud,” she said.

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