Continued concerns about children’s rights on islands

The situation for children in Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba has improved in some areas in the past few years, but United Nations Children’s Fund in the Netherlands UNICEF Nederland and the Defence for Children organisation are still very much concerned about the conditions in which children on the islands grow up.

Dutch State Secretary in charge of Youth Policy Martin van Rijn (centre) and students had an animated discussion on children’s rights and the Annual Update that was published by UNICEF Nederland and Defence for Children on Friday. Following this discussion, the students handed over the Annual Update to the State Secretary. (Photo courtesy of UNICEF Nederland)
Dutch State Secretary in charge of Youth Policy Martin van Rijn (centre) and students had an animated discussion on children’s rights and the Annual Update that was published by UNICEF Nederland and Defence for Children on Friday. Following this discussion, the students handed over the Annual Update to the State Secretary. (Photo courtesy of UNICEF Nederland)

In their ninth Annual Update Children’s Rights, issued on Friday, UNICEF Nederland and Defence for Children, provided an overview on the situation of children and youngsters in the Netherlands in five areas: child abuse, youth care, youth criminal law, migration and exploitation. Special attention was given to the Caribbean Netherlands islands, Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba.

UNICEF Nederland Director Jan Bouke Wijbrandi and Defence for Children Director Aloys van Rest expressed their concern in the foreword about the fact that figures on the situation of children on the islands, who find themselves in a difficult situation, are scarcely available. “This lack of information creates a blind spot, while these children really need the extra care and attention.”

The Annual Update, which has been sent to the relevant authorities, stated that life for children in the Caribbean Netherlands has improved in a number of areas in the past few years. “There is now more attention for these children. However, grave concerns remain about the circumstances in which they grow up.”

According to UNICEF Nederland and Defence for Children, social organisations, the island governments and the Dutch Government have a task to realise more improvements in the area of children’s rights. “Children in the Caribbean Netherlands deserve the same opportunities as children in the Netherlands.”

The report made mention of the 2013 study by UNICEF Nederland showed that the situation of children’s rights on the three islands didn’t comply with the requirements of the United Nations (UN) Children’s Rights Treaty.

The 2013 study, compiled after several visits to the islands and consultations with authorities, organisations and children themselves, reported intense poverty, domestic violence and the lack of figures on children and the problems they face.

“The confronting conclusion of this study made the problems of the islands visible, and put the situation of children’s rights on the agenda, both on the islands and in the Netherlands,” it was stated in the Annual Update. The aim is for children on the islands to be able to grow up healthy and in a safe environment.

There are also problems with the quality of youth care, the lack of youth criminal law provisions, a lack of knowledge on children’s rights and possibilities for children to participate. Data registration and monitoring about youth care, exploitation, physical abuse, undocumented children, children without a permanent residency, online safety and children that have come in contact with youth criminal law are barely available in the Caribbean Netherlands.

Because of the lack of data, there is no good view on the situation of children and therefore their improvements cannot be monitored properly. The Dutch Government has made funds available to expand the Youth Monitor with data from the Caribbean Netherlands. An inventory is currently being made of the available data and to also see which surveys are necessary to obtain a better view.

Local organisations will have to register how things are going with children and youngsters in specific areas. This information can be included in the Youth Monitor in a later phase, so that a better view is obtained based on which policy can be drafted. Organisations need assistance in setting up data register systems.

Domestic abuse is still a widespread, recurring phenomenon on the islands, it was ascertained in a 2014 study of the Region Plan. That study also confirmed that domestic violence is closely related to poverty issues.

As a result of this study, a plan is currently being drafted to tackle domestic violence and children’s abuse. Part of this plan is to establish a reporting point for children’s abuse and in Bonaire a children’s hotline is being set up.

It is important that reports that are filed about children’s violence receive the proper follow-up. The connection between poverty and the lack of knowledge on how to raise children in a good manner should receive attention as well. The Children’s Ombudsman and the UN Children’s Right Committee also emphasize the importance of positive, nonviolent and engaged raising of children.

The absence of an established poverty line on the islands is a problem, as is the fact that not every resident has a minimum income. Living in poverty has consequences for children in many areas, as a result of which they cannot sufficiently develop themselves and fully participate in society, it was stated in the Annual Update. Based on the UN Children’s Rights Treaty, government has the obligation to prevent that children grow up in poverty, and to assist when parents cannot manage to offer an adequate living standard.

Dutch youth criminal legislation doesn’t apply to the Caribbean Netherlands. There is a lack of adequate provisions, such as crisis shelters or provisions to carry out alternative punishment for youth delinquents. There is no youth detention centre and youngsters of St. Eustatius and Saba, who are sentenced by the Court, have to serve jail time in Bonaire.

It was concluded in the report that children in the Caribbean Netherlands don’t get the opportunity to participate as full-ledged citizens: not at home, not at school, not in local society. Therefore, children need to be informed about their rights. This can help to enable children to participate in society.

Besides dedicating the proper attention to children’s rights through education and initiatives of local organisations involving children, the availability of the Children’s Ombudsman for children living on the islands should be improved. The National Ombudsman has also said that the Children’s Ombudsman should give more attention to the Caribbean Netherlands

The Daily Herald.

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