Georgetown, Guyana – (September 26, 2019): President David Granger, this afternoon, attended the opening ceremony of the $250 million Childcare and Family Centre at Block ‘C’ Sophia, Georgetown.
The President, in his address, reminded that children are the future and the experiences in their formative years impact on their development.
“Children who have unhappy childhoods can be affected adversely for the remainder of their lives. Problems in early childhood are often difficult to reverse later in life. The influence of childhood is indelible,” the President said, noting that children are nurtured best in a home rather than in an institution.
“A happy, caring and loving home is essential for children’s development. The family holds the primary responsibility for their protection and upbringing,” President Granger said.
Children have an absolute right to a happy childhood, he said, noting that there is a collective duty to support their enjoyment of that right.
“Home is not always a happy or safe place to be, however. Many children are subject to abuse – emotional, physical and verbal – or suffer neglect. Children are most vulnerable to abuse. They are unable often to defend themselves or to avoid acts abuse. Children need the attention and protection of adults within and outside the home. Every generation has a duty to care for and protect its children. Childcare and protection are shared responsibilities to be undertaken by parents, community, governments and civil society- it takes a village,” the President said.
The Head of State pointed to the Geneva Declaration on the Rights of the Child of 1924 which recognised that mankind owed the child the best that it had to give.
That Declaration urged that children be given the means requisite for normal development, both materially and spiritually; that hungry children must be fed, sick children nursed, backward children helped, delinquent children reclaimed and the orphan and waif sheltered and succoured.
Guyana, like many other countries, has enacted or strengthened its legislative framework for promoting childcare and protecting children’s rights.
“Legislation, however, is as effective only as its enforcement. Laws must be complemented by plans, policies and programmes – including providing support for the victims of child abuse – which strengthen childcare and protection,” the President said.
The Constitution of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana incorporates the principle of children’s rights and mandates [at Article 38 B] that “The best interest of the child shall be the primary consideration in all judicial proceedings and decisions in all matters concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, administrative bodies and legislative bodies”.
The Constitutionalso protects children from parental neglect and entitles them to free education.
President Granger reminded that Guyana has passed a raft of laws,including theStatus of Children Act, Protection of Children Act, Adoption of Children Act, Sexual Offences Act,Childcare and Protection Agency Act,Custody, Contact, Guardianship and Maintenance Act,Combating of Trafficking in Persons Act and Juvenile Justice Act, aimed at providing protection to children.
“Laws are necessary, but not sufficient, to safeguard our children and to reduce the incidence of abuse. Children and parents need support mechanisms if they are to be effective in protecting the nation’s children,” President Granger said.
The President said childrenmust be protected from abuse and neglect as he pointed to disturbing statistics revealed by the Childcare and Protection Agency (CPA). There have been more than 18 cases of child sexual abuse reported each week; more than 10 children are abused or neglected daily; and1,277 cases of neglect and abuse have been recorded by the CPA during the first quarter of this year.
“Your Government is taking steps to strengthen child care by putting in place policies, programmes and plans which give effect to Guyana’s child care laws, its international obligations and which respond to the need to assist child abuse victims,” he said.
Further, the Head of State said Government is taking steps to complement and support the legislative architecture which has established institutions to protect the nation’s children. Six Child Advocacy Centres for victims of child sexual abuse have been established across the country, early childhood Development Centres have been established at Ithaca and Anna Regina;Children’s Court has been working to ensure a more rehabilitative and restorative system of juvenile justice; and the Sexual Offences courts in Berbice, Demerara and Essequibo are also operational.
“Your Government is pursuing policies to support these institutions:Regulations for improved management of childcare facilities;Reintegration Policy for Teen Mothers in Schools which will allow teenage mothers to continue their education; Policy to address children without adequate parental care; Policy to prevent child labour; andPolicy to encourage good parenting practices so as to strengthen family life,” the President said as he called on civil society, the churches, social and welfare organisations to participate in the process.
“This is not a job for Government and citizens; this is a Guyanese problem. It is in our national interest, collectively, to ensure that no child in this country suffers abuse. Childcare and protection, like education, however, is a shared responsibility. The protection of children is not a personal but a social responsibility. Every citizen is invested with the responsibility of protecting our children. Parents, teachers, communities, civil society organizations should all be part of a protective shield safeguarding our children,” President Granger said.
Emphasising that the welfare of children is of paramount importance, the President said the Government will work to ensure a better life and safer environment for children over the next ten yearsduringthe Decade of Development. President Granger said the ‘Decade’ will place emphasis on ten main areas, including social protection for the most vulnerable, the nation’s children.
“It will ensure that no child sleeps on the street; no child goes to bed hungry and no child will be denied access to public health care and public education,” he said adding that the ‘Decade’ will attach importance, also, to ensuring a first-class education for all children and will restore the entitlement of free education.
“No child will be deprived of education. Education must go step by step with other forms of protection,” he said noting that the construction of the Children and Family Care Centre demonstrates Government’s resolve to protect children and to improve the quality of family life,” he said.”
The Centre expands the range of social protection services and will provide tangible relief and support to children and families at risk. It aims at uniting, rather than dividing, families.The Centre is not intended to be a permanent residence for those who are housed there.
“It will provide relief and support until the family could find permanent accommodation. Our Government is aiming to provide a roof over every head. Every child belongs in the home. I would like to see more children who are in institutions reunited with their families. Children and parents should only be separated only for the child’s protection,” President Granger said as he congratulated the Ministry of Social Protection on the initiative.
The President said too that progress is being made to ensure a better future for our children. “We are strengthening childcare and protection. We are working to reunite families. We must continue on this path of progress. We must continue to move forward in the years ahead,” he asserted.
Meanwhile, Minister of Social Protection, Ms. Amna Ally, said the Centre will allow vulnerable and disadvantaged children to be given an equal chance at life while avoiding family separation. She noted that the Centre will offer an alternative to caregivers at risk for abandoning or placing their child in residential care and will provide a safe, temporary learning centre for parents and their children.
“All children living at the Centre are expected to attend school or be enrolled in a day care if not attained school age, while parents will be encouraged to work, attend a job training programme, seek housing and attend social service appointments. Dedicated social workers will be assigned to work with each family,” the Minister said.
The Centre can accommodate 80 children and has eight separate self-contained apartments for families. The opening of the Centre coincides with Child Protection Week being observed this week under the theme, “Promoting social change to stop the violation of children”.