FOCUSING ON THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD
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IN Western Societies, until very recently, children were regarded as small adults and no different from adults except for their age, size and level of experience. This accounted for small children during the Industrial Revolution in England being sent to work in the coal mines or as chimney sweepers where, from their size, they would be able to go up the chimney. It was also a norm for them to be involved in agricultural work and we are reminded of this in the Nursery Rhymes where Little Bo-peep had to tend the sheep and ensure that they return home from pasture or Little Boy Blue had the task of blowing his horn to control the sheep and prevent the cows from invading the wheat field. Unlike today when children are dressed differently from adults, the assumption that children were small adults was reflected in their being dressed as adults.

This contrasts with many ancient cultures and civilisations where children and teenagers were accepted as different from adults. In Hindu Society, for example, by the Laws of Manu, the human lifespan was divided into four segments: The first quarter covered the time when the child was to be educated and as a young teenager to learn the skills of livelihood. (Bhramchari); the second quarter is when the Brahmachari moves into adulthood, is married, raises a family, builds a home and is creatively engaged in the work of the world (Gharhastya); the third quarter prescribes that the householder does public service and begins to devote more time to God (Vanaprashta); and the last segment is when one disengages from money-making and other material pulls, prepares for death and becomes more subsumed with God and religion (Sanyasa). These four segments of life are not mutually exclusive but could run into each other at several points.

Towards the end of the 19th century, Western Society fully grasped that children were different from adults and had their own needs and sensitivities, suffered deep pain from insensitive treatment by adults, and had to be treated differently and specially protected. With the vision, intellectual depth, efficiency and speed for which Western Man is known, Western societies have set up various institutions, legal frameworks, researches and teaching programmes such as ‘Child Psychology’ and creative media projections promoting the Rights of the Child. This is also reflected in International organisations such as UNICEF.

Guyana has been doing its part in energetically protecting the Rights of the Child by several activities such as the training programmes conducted by the Adult Education Association (AEA), wherein June last, the Childcare Management class successfully graduated several Childcare practitioners. Ms Anne Green, the Director of the Childcare and Protection Agency spoke on the occasion and reported that her Agency had received reports of 1277 cases of violations of the Rights of the Child in the first quarter of 2019 – 576 cases of neglect; 334 cases of abuse; and 268 cases of physical abuse. She reminded that the caring of children required affection, concern, time, energy, patience, observation and commitment. Her Agency operated within the ambit of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to which Guyana has subscribed. That Convention outlines 42 Rights and among these are the Right to Survival; the Right to develop to the fullest; the Right to participate fully in family, cultural and social life; and the Right to be protected from harmful influences, abuse and exploitation.

Ms Sylvie Fouet, Head of the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) has been always supportive of all local activities for the protection of the Rights of the Child and on the occasion of the AEA graduation, on behalf of UNICEF donated approximately $3.9 millions worth of equipment and supplies including computers, cameras, tripods, televisions, chairs and desks to be used by the Child Advocacy Centres in Regions one, four and seven.
Some months earlier, in April, a specific Child Labour Policy was launched addressing such abuses as trafficking in children for sexual exploitation and forced labour in dangerous abusive circumstances.

Ms Fouet gave a background of the genesis and development of the Child Labour Policy. She pointed out that Guyana was a leader among CARICOM countries in respect of Child Labour Policy and that the Policy was the result of a three-year effort by various stakeholders, both locally and internationally. “We have been pleased”, she said, “to support the journey. In 2017 we began by reviewing the Law together. Then last year and this year elaborating the Policy and also drafting an Action Plan that will operationalise the Policy and supporting key interventions”.

UNICEF and the Ministry of Education also have been working together to provide school spaces and even meals for the thousands of refugee children from Venezuela. In this programme of assistance, bilingual teachers have to be trained since most of the Venezuelan children know no English.

Ms Claudia Coenjaerts, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) representative said that the Policy provides a coherent framework on the way forward in tackling child labour issues in Guyana and that its implementation is very important. As part of a collaborative effort, a child labour risk identification model in the country would be piloted. The model is a statistical tool which uses national data to identify levels of risk for child labour in specific geographical areas to make it easier to identify where prevention and operationaliation of active measures would be more important.

The State’s efforts in enforcing the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Child Labour Policy are important and necessary measures in furthering the protection of children and ensuring that their childhood is not taken away from them. But it is also necessary to bring parents and guardians onboard since if they know of their roles and know of their importance in protecting their children, this would go a far way towards solving the problems of neglect and abuse and ensure the protection of the child’s rights. This would entail constant and methodical education of parents as to their roles.

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