Children’s Ombudsman presents islands’ report
By Suzanne Koelega
Young people in Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba (BES) on average are happy with their lives, but there is still much that needs to be improved. Poverty is a great problem, while children also want more opportunities to develop themselves and more activities outside of school.
As part of the children’s rights tour, Dutch Children’s Ombudsman Margrite Kalverboer spoke with almost 200 youngsters between the ages of 5 and 18 during her visit to the three islands of the Caribbean Netherlands late 2016 about their lives, what they found important and what they thought should become better.
These personal talks, together with the information from the enquiries of another 264 kids, ages 11 to 20, was drafted into a 65-page report titled “If you ask us,” which the Children’s Ombudsman will release today, Wednesday. This is the first time the opinions of such a large group of children from the Caribbean Netherlands is compiled into a report.
The majority of the children and youngsters grow up in a loving environment and feel happy. They give their lives a high grade: 8.4 in Bonaire, 7.9 in Saba and 7.6 in Statia. At the same time, there are things that need to get better. Poverty is mentioned as a serious problem.
Children don’t like to talk about their own situation, but almost all said that they knew children who didn’t get enough food and didn’t have sufficient clothes.
“Poverty, often hidden because it is not discussed in the open, seems to be a big problem for many children and youngsters on the islands,” it was concluded in the report.
Adolescents found that their parent(s) worked too many hours, often two to three jobs, in order to make enough to feed their family. Youngsters were very well aware that the cost of living is very high on the islands. Because the parent(s) worked so many hours, they found that they were receiving too little positive attention and that sometimes they were neglected.
“Parents are tired and have stress because of money problems. This often coincides with bad choices, alcohol abuse and wrong or harsh upbringing practices, the children stated. They also find that adults have little respect for them, that adults don’t listen to them, because they have old-fashioned ideas about upbringing. There is too little talk, too much cussing and sometimes beating.”
Poverty, neglect and a lack of attention seems to be especially a problem in Statia. Youngsters said they would love to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, but that most times there is no money for this. Girls said that adults were shown sexual unacceptable behaviour towards them and that date rapes sometimes occurred. Youngsters said that they didn’t feel safe outside after sunset because of the lack of street lighting and loud, drunk people.
Children want their parent(s) to give the right example. In fact, everyone should give the right example, many kids stated. In general, there should be more respect and people should treat each other more decently. They found that many adults gave the wrong example by drinking and fighting too much. Children and youngsters also indicated that they would like to be treated in a more equal manner by adults, to enter into dialogue instead of telling them what to do.
The young generation is critical about education: they want better facilities, more quality and improved safety at school. In their opinion, they don’t have sufficient opportunities to develop themselves, and to be able later on to leave the island to study and achieve their ambitions.
According to the report, the fact that kids feel they cannot fully develop has an effect on their level of education and ultimately on their future prospective. Also, there is no special education for children who need this, kids don’t always feel safe at school and there is a shortage of educational material in some schools.
The limitations in development are especially apparent in Saba. The small size of the island limits their development and offers little challenge. Activities are mainly geared towards children and not teenagers. These youngsters said that often they found they had little to do outside of school and that they would love to engage in more social, cultural and sports activities.
Youth care is insufficient and there are almost no places where a child can go with their concerns and talk confidentially. Because the islands are so small, it is hard to talk about problems because everyone will soon know about it.
The young people had several wishes they indicated to the Children’s Ombudsman: more activities, fight poverty, improve the quality of education, better and safer streets and school transport, helping children with their problems, show respect for one another and adults should listen better to children.
Children’s Ombudsman Kalverboer said that even though the children said they have a good life, the personal talks and the filled-in questionnaires showed that not all is well. “It is beautiful to see how resilient and positive the children were, but there is still a lot that needs to get better: poverty, safety, school, confidentiality issues. I found it quite shocking,” she told The Daily Herald.
Kalverboer said she was struck by the children’s loyalty towards their parents. “They are very understanding towards their parents, they show empathy for the harsh upbringing, the long working hours and the lack of attention.”
In an effort to see the wishes of the children materialise, the Children’s Ombudsman will organise talks in the near future with involved parties, including the children, parents and professionals. “The first step is to listen to children, but it is just as important to do something with that. This way, we can actually make things better for the children in the Caribbean part of the Netherlands.”
Kalverboer said she was surely not out to tell people how to do things differently. “There has to be dialogue. We are prepared to provide support, but I will not tell them how to do things from the Netherlands. Listening to what the children and youngsters have told us, we need to talk about the issues in order to achieve concrete improvements.”
One of the ideas is to establish an easily accessible information centre where children can take their concerns and pose questions about their rights and the facilities that exist. That centre should be locally run, possibly with outside support, also to safeguard the confidentiality aspect. “There is a clear need for this, not only of the children. As Children’s Ombudsman I have a role to play.”
The Children’s Ombudsman said that even though children in the Caribbean Netherlands on paper have the same rights as their peers in the Netherlands, the reality proves otherwise. “We measure with different sticks. That cannot and should not be.”
Kalverboer said she supported the wish of the Dutch Parliament to establish a social minimum for the islands. “Children clearly said that the cost of living is way too high and that their mother needs to work two to three jobs. A social minimum is definitely needed, because it will benefit the children as well.”
The Daily Herald.