“The well-being of our youth is the government’s constitutional responsibility.”
PHILIPSBURG, Sint Maarten — We have been once again confronted with reports of alleged sexual misconduct with a minor, that occurred some months ago at one of our local high schools. It is no secret who the alleged perpetrator is, with the name of the teacher having been mentioned publicly.
“ With this coming to light and with even more information on what transpired, many persons are understandably questioning the responsibility of the different levels of authority, school board, government, inspection etc.”, MP Wescot stated in a press release issued on Sunday.
“I want to make it very clear that this particular incident needs to be investigated in-depth. What exactly transpired and how was it dealt with, if not dealt with, why not. While I heard the government’s initial reaction through the Prime Minister on this matter I don’t think that was an appropriate public response.”
The incidence of child sexual abuse on St. Maarten is worrisome, as cited in different reports, and also from what you hear from teachers and other professionals as to what they are confronted with, as well as from the agencies where reporting of these matters should take place. So every case is one too many.
In the view of MP Wescot how the government responded, came across like “blaming the community for talking about it”.
In the small community we live in, this is unavoidable and given that fact the government should’ve been much more direct and give a much better indication of what is being done. Where are we with this investigation, the MP herself queries.
The government has a constitutional responsibility for the youth of this country, for the care and protection of the youth and that supersedes all other public authority where our youth is concerned. Furthermore, St. Maarten has endorsed the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Punishable acts against our children are regulated in the Criminal Code, MP Wescot explained further.
“The Code has several articles that deal with this and I think that before we even start to talk about whether the punishments meted out are sufficient and act as a deterrent , we need to digress and look at the execution of our responsibilities regarding our youth, at the laws, policies, programs and the execution thereof.
There are several studies that highlight the issues that young people face or are impacted by, such as the analysis by UNICEF regarding the state of the youth and adolescents on St. Maarten of 2020, with clear recommendations.
“But more worrisome is the finding in the report that ‘Over 85 percent of interviewees mentioned violence as a major issue facing children, adolescents and women in their community or household.”
“Even though over 50 percent of the adult interviewees believe child sexual abuse to be a “common” occurrence in their communities and families, it remains a taboo topic for discussion.”
Recently the MP was part of the final review that took place with respect to the interim education review and explained that this report is based on the country package, and conducted under the auspices of the Inspection of Education on St. Maarten and that of the Netherlands.
“This report has been submitted to parliament, and it is left to be seen how the government will want to approach this. Interesting is the statement by the minister of ECYSA that the ministry is formulating a comparative analysis.”
“St. Maarten is a small community, and although we have lost some of the close-knit attributes, we are nevertheless a small community and that has its advantages, but also drawbacks.”
An advantage of our smallness and a drawback at the same time is the fact that everybody knows everybody.
“Knowing that, the way the government has so far dealt with this matter, came across lacking in empathy and understanding that there is outrage and that people want to know and people have questions. So rather than admonish, the Prime Minister should have been a little more forthcoming in terms of what is being done, what can be done, how is it being done and in what period of time. Give outlook, give perspective.”
As to the care for our youth in general, MP Wescot iterated that it is a constitutional responsibility and clearly not only about providing education.
There is so much more to it and there are many stakeholders that are part of the country’s responsibility for our youth.
“The report I referred to from UNICEF repeats how important it is that all ministries work together to give St. Maarten young people as much as possible a carefree youth; free of especially violence, sexual and otherwise. In the same report mention is made of several policies regarding the youth and for whatever reason (which the minister would have to respond to), these policies have not gone into affect.”
The report speaks of the integrated youth policy and like with so many reports the question is, why have these policies not been put into affect.
We have the civil code, regulating the role of the court of guardianship; we have the criminal code with what behaviors towards our youth are not tolerated and in fact are criminal. And then you have the policies in terms of how will this be approached.
A Youth Law is something to be considered, according to MP Wescot. “In that legislation for example we could deal with things like reporting. Right now there is a law in the making regarding education and supervision. This is necessary to give the Inspection department the teeth to do their job as inspectors for education.
With that law regardless of whether it’s the private school boards, subsidized or otherwise, reporting needs to take place on the school in general and on incidents which are, even potentially against the wellbeing of students, individually or collectively.
Colleague MPs Gumbs, Peterson and Duncan have requested an urgent public meeting with the Minister of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport Affairs to look at amongst other things the relationship with subsidized school boards. The request I am sure was prompted by the recent incident and the way it has been handled or not handled.
While for example the country package’s education project focuses on evaluating and revamping the education system and accountability, we need to look deeper, closer and jointly at matters pertaining to our youth in general.
“What I miss in the country package is that it talks about all of these evaluations and what needs to be done, but putting that focus on the youth as the future of this country is lacking. There is no reference to what we should do, now that we have the situational analysis of the UNICEF, regarding our young people.”
MP Wescot stated that she hopes the minister will come prepared to provide some answers to the items highlighted by her, in the meeting on Wednesday.
- And additionally, in reference to the draft policies regarding the joint responsibilities of the government for youth care, are these approved and if not, why not?
- Can the ministry provide the draft of the Education Supervision ordinance?
- Is the child protection working group functional?
- What is the ministry’s comparative analysis to the education review?