Great Bay, St. Maarten – The United Nations’ (UN) Universal Children’s Day, which was established in 1954, is celebrated on November 20 each year to promote international togetherness and awareness among children and improving children’s welfare.
It is a date on which parents, teachers, nurses and doctors, government representatives and civil society activists, religious and community elders, corporate moguls and media professionals as well as young people and children themselves are encouraged to play an important part in making Universal Children’s Day relevant for their societies and communities.
It is also the date on which the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child in 1959. Thirty years later the UN General assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child on that same date.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a child as any human person who has not reached the age of eighteen years.
The convention defines that children specifically, have the right to equal protection, which means that every child is entitled to the same treatment at the hands of authority regardless of race, gender, disability, or religion.
The Charter of Child Rights is built on the principle that “all children are born with fundamental freedoms and all human beings have some inherent rights”.
This in turn is to guarantee the health, well-being, and safety of children and youth.
The question remains if children know what their rights are. Among the fundamental rights of the child is a right to non-discrimination, whereby kids should be allowed to be who they are and be treated equally to everyone else.
Then there is the right to life, survival and development.
In St. Maarten, numerous entities look after and advocate child and youth rights in daily life. The Court of Guardianship is one such organization. Another one is the department of Youth Affairs, which is charged with the monitoring and reporting on the Rights of the Child to the United Nations.
For St. Maarten, Universal Children’s Day can additionally be an opportunity to further look at the plight of children, particularly in the wake of the passing of hurricane Irma and María in September of this year. As could be remembered, discussions about children in St. Maarten was recently at the forefront, among others, because of serious damages sustained to schools, in addition to the thousands of home structures. Many parents opted, among other things, to evacuate children to Curacao, Aruba, and Holland to attend school.
But discussions about the country’s children have been ongoing for some time. This is visible in the various laws and policies that are in place, such as the Law on Compulsory Education, the Integrated Youth Policy, that is presently being updated, and the National Early Childhood Development Policy, that is now being drafted. The passage of the storm has cemented the need to review all policies in order to update them to include areas pertaining to disaster, amongst others. Research and reading up on these policies will help the community to better meet the needs of children as the most vulnerable among us.
Around the world, many schools and other educational institutions make special efforts to inform children of their rights according to the Declaration of the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Teachers are encouraged to stimulate their pupils to think about the differences between themselves and others and explain the idea of “rights”. Every year on St. Maarten, the Department of Youth Affairs in collaboration with the Court of guardianship, St. Maarten Youth Council, the St. Maarten National Commission for UNESCO, St. Maarten Early Childhood Development Association (SECDA) and the Department responsible for youth affairs on the French side of St. Maarten organize activities (like presentations in song, dance, poetry, debates, panel discussions) to inform youth of St. Maarten about their rights. Events are also held to commemorate this international day.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), like the Millennium Development Goals before them, are playing a significant role in determining the global approach to international development. Though goals focus on sustainable development, they are inseparably linked to human rights generally, and the rights of children specifically. When asking ourselves what we can do for children, we can look at the SDGs, whether poverty (Goal 1), hunger (Goal 2), health (Goal 3), education (Goal 4), gender equality (Goal 5), climate change (Goal 13) or violence against children (Goal 16.2) and find targets and indicators which can help us to support and monitor the children rights situation on Sint Maarten, starting by making children and parents aware of those fundamental rights.
In the current context of St. Maarten recovering from the September 2017 hurricanes, November 20 should be seen as an opportunity to give consideration as to how to continue giving content to promoting and protecting children’s rights. Points for discussion can always vary, but can include topics such as social protection and support for children as well as prevention of overweight and obesity among children through healthy weight-programs in districts and schools.