Ombudsman call for ‘urgent approach’ to combat poverty among young people

Poor, young people in the Caribbean Netherlands of­ten end up in a vicious cycle of problems. To break this cycle, an urgent and com­prehensive approach to combatting youth poverty is needed. This is what the Na­tional Ombudsman and the Ombudsman for Children recommend in their joint report on the topic, titled “A Poor Beginning”.

The study, which focuses on poverty among young adults in Bonaire, St. Eu­statius and Saba, outlines the many hurdles they are facing as they try to escape poverty during their transi­tion to adulthood.

While there are various re­sources available to young people in the European Netherlands who are in need of help, these are rare­ly available to their Dutch-Caribbean peers. The level of poverty among this group is highly alarming, and ur­gent action is required.

Children’s Ombudsman Margrite Kalverboer (left) and National Ombudsman Reinier van Zupthen. (Suzanne Koelega file photo)

Poverty trap

“Young people who grow up in poverty are usually dealing with more than one problem they face a whole host of issues,” says Ombudsman for Chil­dren Margrite Kalverboer. “They end up in a repeti­tive pattern that is passed down from one generation to the next. We need to break that pattern.”

As a result of the poverty they live in, these young people often lack access to healthy food, and their parents are sometimes un­able to provide the care they need due to stress re­lated to their circumstanc­es. The risk of domestic violence and child abuse — which can lead to mental problems — is also higher among poor families.

Moreover, poverty has a negative impact on young people’s development, as it is accompanied by lower-quality housing and reduced participation in social activities. Children from poor families have often fallen behind their peers already when they start school, which in­creases their risk of drop­ping out without a diplo­ma. This, in turn, makes it more difficult to find a job that provides sufficient in­come later on in life.

It is virtually impossible for these young people to catch up in all the areas in which they have fallen behind. The consequence of this is that their poverty and lack of opportunities are often passed on to the next generation when they have children of their own. Despite the measures that have already been taken to combat poverty among young people in the Carib­bean Netherlands, persis­tent concerns remain. The problems occur across vari­ous domains, making these difficult to address. That is why urgent and intensive cooperation between the central government and the public entities is considered necessary.

“The severity of the poverty problem calls for rapid intervention,” says National Ombudsman and Ombudsman for Veter­ans Reinier van Zutphen. “To fight poverty, we need short-term action, facili­tated by a concerted col­laborative effort. The vi­cious cycle of poverty must be broken, so that young people in the Caribbean Netherlands have a fair chance of escaping their circumstances.”

Both ombudsmen stress that this integrated ap­proach should take into account the local con­text, the islands’ culture and the existing lack of trust in the government. Moreover, they think it is important that young people’s voices are heard, and that they are actively involved in the search for solutions.

“Giving young people a voice increases the chance of success of any measures and programmes that are introduced,” said Kalver­boer.

Four spearheads

In cooperation between the Dutch government and the public entities Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba in several areas such as income, education and after-school care, mea­sures are being taken to improve the circumstanc­es of young people living in poverty in the longer term.

However, the severity of the issue also calls for urgency. The ombudsmen therefore insist on coop­eration and coordinated action in the short term, envisioning a steering role for the Ministry of Home Affairs and Kingdom Re­lations.

They recommend focus­sing on four key issues: more affordable housing; more training opportuni­ties and after-school ac­tivities that are both ac­cessible and affordable; sufficient internships and work-placement oppor­tunities, as well as more targeted vocational edu­cation; and young people should be given access to a buddy or confidant who listens to their problems and provides support.

This joint study of pov­erty among young adults in the Caribbean Neth­erlands is the second in a series of three studies by the National Ombuds­man into poverty-related issues in Bonaire, Statia and Saba. In September 2019, the National Om­budsman published a study into poverty among the elderly. The third study in the series will focus on poverty among single parents.

The Daily Herald.

 

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