Children are the future
Childhood is a special stage of human life – a period of rapid physical, emotional and intellectual growth. Experiences in a child’s formative years impact on his or her future 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.
Children have an absolute right to a happy childhood. Every child deserves a happy childhood. We have a collective duty to support their enjoyment of that right.
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.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child  recognizes that:
“…the child for the full and harmonious development of his or her personality should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding.”
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.
Children’s care should be a paramount principle of life on earth. The Geneva Declaration on the Rights of the Child of 1924 – a landmark in international convention – recognised that mankind owed the child the best that it had to give. It urged men and women of all nations to accept that “…beyond and above all considerations of race, nationality and creed:
• The child must be given the means requisite for its normal development, both materially and spiritually;
• The child that is hungry must be fed; the child that is sick must be nursed; the child that is backward must be helped; the delinquent child must be reclaimed; and the orphan and the waif must be sheltered and succored;
• The child must be the first to receive relief in times of distress;
• The child must be put in a position to earn a livelihood, and must be protected against every form of exploitation; and
• The child must be brought up in the consciousness that its talents must be devoted to the service of fellow men.
The ‘Geneva Declaration’ triggered discussions which culminated in the United Nations General Assembly’s adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989 which reaffirmed the “the best interest of the child” as a paramount principle.
This year, 2019, marks two important milestones for children’s rights. It is the 6oth anniversary of the Declaration of the Rights of the Child; and the 40th year since the launch of International Year of the Child in 1979.
National governments, including Guyana’s, have enacted or strengthened their legislative framework for promoting childcare and protecting children’s rights. The legislative architecture of many states now incorporates the principles and rights enunciated by the various international children rights declarations and conventions.
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 international community, over the past one hundred years, has been calling attention to the plight of children. Concern for the rights of children is evinced in a number of international conventions and declarations including:
• Geneva Declaration on the Rights of the Child, 1925;
• United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, 1948
• Declaration of the Rights of the Child, 1959; and
• Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989.
The Constitution of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana incorporates the principle of children’s rights. It 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 Constitution protects children from parental neglect. It states [at Article 38 D] that: “Every child has the right to maintenance from his or her parents and guardians.”
The Constitution entitles every child to education. It states [at Article 149 H] that: “Every child is entitled to free primary and secondary education in schools owned or funded by the State.”
Guyana has passed a raft of laws aimed at providing protection to children. These include the:
• Status 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.
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. Children must be protected from abuse and neglect:
• More than 18 cases of child sexual abuse are reported each week.
• More than 10 children are abused or neglected each day; and
• 1,277 cases of neglect and abuse have been recorded by the Childcare and Protection Agency 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.
Your Government is taking steps to complement and support the legislative architecture which has established institutions to protect the nation’s children. We have, inter alia, established:
• Child Advocacy Centres for victims of child sexual abuse; six such centres exist nationally and each region will have such a centre where victims can seek assistance;
• Early Childhood Development centres at Ithaca and Anna Regina;
• Children’s Court to ensure a more rehabilitative and restorative system of juvenile justice; and
• Sexual Offences courts in the old counties of Berbice, Demerara and Essequibo.
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; and
• Policy to encourage good parenting practices so as to strengthen family life.
In all of these responsibilities, we call upon civil society, we call upon the churches, we call upon social organisations, welfare organisations to participate. 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.
Decade of Development, 2020-2024
The welfare of children is of paramount importance. Your government will work to ensure a better life and safer environment for children over the next ten years.
We shall launch a Decade of Development, next year. The ‘Decade’ will place emphasis on ten main areas, including social protection for our most vulnerable, our 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.
The ‘Decade’ will attach importance, also, to ensuring a first-class education for our 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.
The construction of this Children and Family Care Centre demonstrates our resolve to protect children and to improve the quality of family life. The centre expands the range of social protection services. It brings tangible relief and support to children and families at risk. It aims at uniting, rather than dividing, families.
Your Government’s efforts to create a more caring and protective environment for society’s most vulnerable members – our children – is manifested in the construction of this Centre. It will function with due regard always for “the best interests of the child.”
It is not intended to be a permanent residence for those who are housed here. 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.
I congratulate the Ministry of Social Protection on this initiative. It is yet another demonstration that Government is moving in the right direction.
Children are the future. We owe them a duty to ensure that they are nurtured in caring, loving, safe homes and understanding environment. We must bequeath to them a better country, community where they can become the best they can be.
Children are the future. They must be protected if they are to become the best that they can be and assume the role of leadership, role of custodians of national development. Their welfare is paramount.
We are making progress ensuring 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.
I thank you.