By Shauna Jemmott
MANY students in Guyana turn to prostitution and illegal activities after completing school as a result of the unavailability of proper professional and career opportunities, a Situation Analysis (SitAn) report compiled by the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) said.The SitAn report was presented by UNICEF’s outgoing Guyana and Suriname Country Representative Marianne Flach to First Lady Sandra Granger and Minister of Social Protection Volda Lawrence on Wednesday, at Herdmanston Lodge in Georgetown.
According to a ‘Voice of Adolescents’ section in the report, “Many of the students upon completing school cannot find proper jobs and they end up turning to prostitution and illegal activities.”
UNICEF also revealed that many Guyanese migrate to other countries because of lack of job security and availability, which creates devastating social and economic effects and results in broken families, the brain drain and an estimated 8% loss of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
The report said despite Guyana’s good GDP performance, taking into consideration the GDP per capita, the country remains the third poorest in the Western Hemisphere, after Haiti and Nicaragua.
“Unemployment is high, and it is particularly concerning for the young population, which represents more than 60% of Guyana’s population. Since 2002, youth unemployment has been consistently higher than 30% and is currently estimated to be about 40%.”
CHILDREN ARE IGNORED
The UNICEF report also highlighted that the voices of children in Guyana are being ignored and respect for their rights limited, despite recommendations by the Convention on the Rights of the Child to ensure child participation in local governance, schools, the courts and the family.
UNICEF said they had consulted, both formally and informally, with several children from various parts of the country during the process of developing this situation analysis, and all had one common concern. The children consulted varied in gender, ages, ethnicities and wealth statuses, and shared various realities, experiences and points of view.
“… nonetheless, all had one point in common: they all mentioned not having any space to participate at school,” UNICEF said.
It further noted that while “school is not the only environment where the child lives, it is the space where he/she spends 1/3 of his/her day, and it is an environment where learning is the main goal. In theory, the school could be the space where participation should be taught and practised.”
“No one has ever asked us what we would like to change about the school. If given the opportunity, we would be glad to share our ideas [and] views and feelings on the areas for improvement in the school,” the report quotes a child as saying.
UNICEF pointed out that so distant was the concept of “participation” that children hardly knew what the word meant, but the vast majority agreed that they needed opportunities to have their voices heard by management and teachers in schools. The children believe that their participation will become effective,only if teachers are ready to listen and respect their opinions.
“While all the students were receptive to the idea of participation at school, at home, and in their community, they also shared a concern that some adults might not be prepared to listen to their opinions and take them seriously,” the report states.
Back at home, children and adolescents mentioned that only sometimes are they given opportunities to participate, while the majority of the decisions lay with adults.
At community levels, children report that participation is non-existent, and could not recognise any “open spaces” where they could freely interact with the community in order to have their voices heard.
“In practice, according to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, 2013), respect for this right remains limited, with no systematic approach in place for the participation of children and young people in local governance. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child raised that socio-cultural attitudes and traditions continue to restrain children from freely expressing their views in schools, the courts and within the family,” the SitAn report states.
Meanwhile, SitAn recommends that principals and teachers in all schools in Guyana must be trained in the importance of child participation at school and society.
It was also recommended that they develop toolkits for public consultations on national policy development to standardise these consultations at a high level of inclusiveness and participation and undertake programmes and awareness-raising activities to promote the meaningful and empowered participation of all children.