CHANGE SAINT LUCIA
FOR THE CHILDREN WITH
ADDRESS ON THE OCCASION OF
THE YEAR OF THE CHILD
19th NOVEMBER, 2003
THE PRIME MINISTER
DR. THE HONOURABLE KENNY D. ANTHONY
We have often heard the adage: “the child shall lead the way.” Well, the truth
is that the children shall lead the way, if, and only if, we have created for
them an enabling environment. They will lead the way when, and only when, we
have created for them a society where they are nurtured, respected and treated
with pride and dignity. Our children will lead the way only if they are accorded
the full rights of children as established under the United Nations Charter,
articulated within the declaration on the Rights of the Child, and most
importantly, as enshrined within our Constitution.
We must, therefore, remain firm in our commitment to provide safe havens for our
children where they can dwell in freedom from fear and freedom from need. In
this pursuit, we must be like ageless and fearless warriors for whom there can
be no retreat or surrender.
GENESIS OF THE YEAR OF THE CHILD
It is in affirmation, therefore, of this desire and a demonstration of our
collective wills to safeguard our children’s future that the Saint Lucia Chapter
of the Global Movement for Children was launched. As you may recall, the Global
Movement, spearheaded by Nelson Mandela and his wife Graca Machel, was a call
for all Governments and Civil Societies to pursue collective actions geared
towards creating a society fit for children. This Government has heeded the
call. For this reason, the launching of the Saint Lucian Chapter of the Global
Movement for Children was even more momentous, because it represented a
watershed, and a public commitment to the cause of Saint Lucia’s children.
This spirit and conviction led the Government to set aside one year to promote
the rights of our children, our society’s most valuable and precious resource.
This decision is now unfolding on the very day set aside by the United Nations
in recognition of the International Day Against Child Abuse.
One may very well ask, how could we devote only one year to so monumental a
task? To this I would reply simply that the Year is more than symbolic – it is
meant to provide the opportunity for the engendering of greater awareness of the
plight of children who have fallen victim to one form of abuse or the other. It
is a year to sensitize and jolt the collective consciousness of our people and
galvanize them into action. It is a year to recognize that the children have
made, and are continuing to make, contributions to the development of our
society. It is important to recognize, however, that our ambitions to safeguard
our children and to create for them better living conditions are not time-bound.
We will continue to work to remove the scourges that imperil our children’s
ADVANCES IN HEALTH CARE
Indeed, we have recorded some successes. Since Saint Lucia’s ratification of the
Convention on the Rights of the Child on 16th July 1993 we have made significant
gains in our health sector. As a consequence of deploying additional resources
to Maternal and Child Health and Primary Health Care we are suffering fewer
casualties. By fortifying our defensive mechanisms through a methodical process
of immunization against communicable diseases, Saint Lucia has not recorded a
single case of measles, mumps or polio. As a result of our ante-natal clinics,
there has been a decrease in infant mortality rates and infants born with low
birth weight. Through our post-natal clinics, where emphasis is placed on
screening and early detection of developmental delays and disabilities, we have
been able to sustain satisfactory levels in child survival and development. We
have also seen an increase in the availability of supportive and therapeutic
resources to complement the services provided by the clinics.
INTENSIFYING PREVENTION CAMPAIGNS
Our successes thus far do not mean, however, that the war has been won. We
cannot relax our defenses, for the enemies continue to lurk in the shadows.
Child and teenage pregnancies, and the emerging threats presented by HIV/AIDS
are time bombs waiting to explode. They must therefore be defused by an
intensification of our prevention campaigns. While, to some extent, we have been
able to control the fallout from mother to child transmission through the
availability of Anti Retroviral drugs for mothers who have tested HIV-positive
during pregnancy, there are still concerns over children who innocently become
infected as a result of child sexual abuse, or affected through the death of a
parent or parents to AIDS-related illness. We must address these concerns with
POSITIVE TRENDS IN EDUCATION
We have also made gains in the area of education, which represents another
important battlefront in our struggle to secure a better future for our
children. The Minister of Education continues to work assiduously and tirelessly
to ensure that school places are created for every child of primary and
secondary school age. Our Government subscribes to the theory that the cure for
poverty is not money but knowledge. There is, however, a shared responsibility
in this area. While we will commit to providing a school place for every child
of primary and secondary school age, it is the responsibility of all parents and
guardians to ensure that the children attend school. Unfortunately, too many
have abandoned or delegated the responsibility for raising their children to the
schools, the teachers and the state.
The area of Early Childhood Education continues to expand under the watchful eye
of the Early Childhood Education Unit. Additionally, efforts have been made in
the expansion of Special Education Centers to ensure that those children who are
physically and/or mentally challenged are given the opportunity of an education
and a chance to develop to their full potential. Unfortunately, the availability
of space in these centres has not been able to satisfy the demand and we will
have to do much more.
CHILD PROTECTION: A BURNING ISSUE
While we can be very proud of the strides made in both Health and Education, the
area of Child Protection remains a burning issue. Over the past five years, the
Division of Human Services and Family Affairs has observed a marked increase in
the number of reported cases of Child Abuse. We cannot continue to treat these
cases with mere sympathy and outrage. It is not words, but deeds that will lend
redress to this situation. Consequently, we must put measures in place to
prevent the incidences of all forms of child abuse, and institute even stronger
procedures and penalties to deal with the perpetrators. Here there can be no
compromise. We have failed too many. We must ensure the adequacy of our laws and
legal system to protect our children and provide the support services for
victims and their families, wherever and whenever necessary.
THEME FOR THE YEAR
In order to ensure a meaningful and focused commemoration of the Year of the
Child, and to allow us to address in a more targeted manner the issues impacting
on our children, a Steering Committee comprising representatives of various
ministries, non-governmental organizations and private individuals was
established. The theme chosen for celebrating the Year is ‘Change Saint Lucia
for the Children with the Children’. This theme is most appropriate, as it
closely relates to that of the Global Movement and emphasizes the need for
societies to give recognition to the voices of children and the need for their
involvement in the decision making process on matters pertaining to them. Our
children must no longer be voiceless, for they too are purveyors of wisdom. We
must not try to silence them in the face of abuse; neither must we shut them up
so as to cover up our failures and shortcomings.
With this in mind, numerous activities and projects have been selected, all of
which are intended, in some way, to enhance the lives of our children.
LEGISLATIVE REFORM TO ENHANCE PROTECTION
During this Year of the Child, the area of Child Protection will be placed high
on the agenda. One of the main activities will be the review of existing
legislation to determine the deficiencies, with a view to removing them.
Already, through the OECS Family Law & Domestic Violence, Legal and Judicial
Reform, of which Saint Lucia is a part, many aspects of our laws pertaining to
children and families are being addressed. The Criminal Code is being revised
and the opportunity will be taken to include the necessary amendments, which
will afford better protection to the nation’s children. In the new Criminal
Code, we have made sure that there are no limitation barriers to the prosecution
of cases of child abuse.
A Draft Protocol for the Prevention, Reporting, Investigation and Management of
Child Abuse and Neglect has been prepared by the Division of Human Services and
Family Affairs. This Protocol provides systematic guidelines and procedures to
be followed by all agencies that provide services to children, including the
police and medical personnel.
We recognize, however, that the existence of adequate legislation on its own
will not prevent child abuse. The enforcement of existing legislation must be
seen as a critical component of the process. We will significantly increase the
public awareness campaign to prevent child abuse, which will be intensified even
further when we join the international community during the month of April, 2004
in observing Child Abuse Awareness Month.
In addition, we will endeavour to provide additional resources to our social
service agencies to better equip them to manage incidences of child abuse. This
will, therefore, be a priority of the Government during this year. Moreover, the
Government will examine the feasibility of providing a Transit Home for Children
in difficult circumstances, so as to provide a place of safety for those who
must be removed from their families for their protection. Such rehabilitative
services shall also be extended to the Boys Training Centre.
NATIONAL PARENTING AND MENTORING PROGRAMMES
Other activities have also been proposed which are designed to support families
in caring for their children, and these will be elucidated during the course of
the year. One such programme, for example, will be the National Parenting and
While we should, during the year, focus attention on the many ills which impact
negatively on the lives of our children, we must also celebrate their many
successes. Too often, we dwell on what is bad, and forget or ignore that which
is good. This year and beyond, let us try to be more balanced.
I firmly believe that the protection and encouragement of our children is not
solely the responsibility of the Government, but that of all Saint Lucians. In
this light, I would like to acknowledge and encourage the continued support of
our social partners such as the Saint Lucia Chamber of Commerce and its Junior
Achievers Programme, the RBTT and its Young Leaders Programme, and other useful
ventures such as Cable and Wireless’ Star Quest. I believe that if we all play
our part, we can create a better society for our children, where they are safe,
are given every opportunity to enjoy their childhood, and are allowed to develop
fearlessly to their fullest potential. I urge everyone, therefore, to join with
us during this year to celebrate our children and to Change Saint Lucia for the
Children with the Children.
Children, Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you and may God bless us all.