SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) - Physical and sexual violence against children is common in Sint Maarten, according to a report published today by UNICEF. Now that the island is in partial lockdown due to the corona crisis, UNICEF is particularly concerned about these vulnerable children. 'The children and their attackers are literally stuck under one roof. They must not become the invisible victims of this crisis, "said UNICEF's Suzanne Laszlo.
The report provides a general overview of the situation of children in Sint Maarten. In addition to collecting and analyzing data, UNICEF also conducted interviews with adults and young people. In it, 85 percent of respondents cite child abuse as a common problem on the island. 50 percent of adults also state that sexual abuse is common. Almost all the interviewed youngsters indicate that they know one or more victims of domestic violence or that they themselves have been victims.
In recent years, the government on Sint Maarten has taken steps to structurally improve the lives of children. There is a reporting center for child abuse, the vaccination coverage is high and almost all children have access to education. This also applies to the estimated 20 percent-undocumented children on the island. However, this group appears to be extra vulnerable because they do not have health insurance. Laszlo: 'Every child is entitled to good care, but these children are left to their own devices. This is very worrying in times of corona."
The UNICEF report also notes a lack of policy in the childcare sector, pre-school education and foster care. Many children living in poverty do not have access to childcare or pre-school education, intended to prepare children for primary school. Foster care does not meet international standards. In addition, UNICEF is concerned about the wellbeing of young adults people in Sint Maarten. One third within this group are not pursuing education and have no paid work. ``Before the hurricane in 2017, we already saw high percentages of young adults feeling depressed or suicidal. We shouldn't forget them, ”says Laszlo.
As the number of new coronavirus infections decrease in St. Maarten, UNICEF forewarns on the consequences of this crisis for children and young people. Domestic violence and neglect often increases in the aftermath of a disaster or crisis, such as the corona pandemic. Children can also experience post-traumatic stress, ”Laszlo explains. "In addition, the conditions conducive to child abuse during disasters are similar to the corona crisis."
In response to the findings of the report, UNICEF calls for more accessible psychosocial support, awareness on the island to combat child abuse, strengthening youth care and child protection and more involvement of fathers in the upbringing of their children.