PHILIPSBURG - The Department of Youth Affairs is launching its official annual awareness campaign in commemoration of the International Day of the Rights of the Child, which will be observed on November 20th.
The campaign which is a collaborative effort of the Department of Youth Affairs, the Department of Sports, UNESCO, schools and non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) aims to bring awareness to children, parents, and the community about the rights of children.
Child abuse, the theme for this year’s campaign, will be spearheaded under the slogan: “My Rights to My Protection, My Freedom from Abuse”. The theme which addresses articles 35, 36 and 37 of the Convention of the Rights of the Child, was deemed necessary considering the spate in reported child abuse incidents since the beginning of 2014. Consideration was also given based on the UNICEF report entitled: “The Situation Of Children and Adolescents on St. Maarten “ which focused primarily on child protection. Owing to this, the stakeholders committee for the “Rights of the Child” decided that the subject required more attention and saw it appropriate to raise awareness on this issue on a vast societal level.
This year’s calendar of events, as has become customary, will see activities hosted by various stakeholders. Last Saturday, the activities kicked-off with a kid Bike-a-thon and Family Fun Day hosted by the St. Maarten Early Childhood Development Association. The event which started at the Raoul Illidge Sport Complex, ended at the Jose Lake Ball Park with various activities for the children.
Subsequently, UNESCO and the ASCD Foundation will open a week –long exhibition from November 19th through November 28th on children’s rights at the Philipsburg Jubilee Library.
On November 20th, several students and a delegation from the Government of St. Maarten will attend the official commemoration ceremony organized by the Collectivité of St. Martin. This ceremony will be followed by a youth discussion and will include selected students from St. Maarten, St. Martin and Anguilla.
A movie night hosted by the St. Maarten Promoting Young Ambassadors Foundation will be held also on November 20th for children on the theme of child abuse.
The Youth Parliament will be making a presentation on the Convention of the Rights of the Child to the Members of Parliament on November 21st at 4.00 pm at the Parliament Building. Additionally, an official from the Department of Youth Affairs will also be making a presentation on the developments of child abuse on a policy level. This presentation will be aired live on television.
On Saturday, November 22nd, the annual Rights of the Child Sports Day will be held in Marigot, St. Martin and will include friendly competitions in track and field, volleyball, tennis, basketball and football.
Finally, on November 28th, the Voice of Our Children will host its annual panel discussion at the Belair Community Center. Other activities are also scheduled and will be hosted by the Collectivité of St. Martin on the French Side of the island.
Over the years, many individuals in our community have contributed to the cause of the rights of children by organizing various activities that endeavored to empower them on the island. Radio programs, uniformed groups and performing arts were among the ambitious undertakings by loyal persons.
The importance of recognizing the Rights of Children on St. Maarten began as early as 1978 when Mrs. Mavis Salomon Brooks and Dr. Linda Banks wrote the lyrics of a song entitled “Our Rights” for a children song festival.
Since then, the developments on children rights on St. Maarten throughout the years have been steady. The former Department of Social and Cultural Development has formulated policy and laws in benefit of children on the island. The now existing Youth Policy, which was finalized in October 2006, can be considered as one of the direct tangibles stemming from the convention that was signed and ratified by the Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1996.
By 2004,The Department of Social and Cultural Development, jump started its campaign strategy by employing a unified approach in bringing awareness regarding children’s rights to the community. During that year, an inter- governmental agreement was forged between the Island Government of St. Maarten and the Commune of St. Martin to jointly organize and host activities for the entire island. This cooperation has now resulted in the further inclusion of Saba, St. Eustatius and Anguilla in the annual programs.
One year later, in 2005, the former Department of Social and Cultural Development, the Commune of St. Martin and then Children’s Rights Advocates Group represented by the Federation Antillean Youth (FAJ), the White and Yellow Cross, I Can Foundation, MPO, Safe Haven, SIFMA and Victorious Living Foundation celebrated, St. Maarten’s first week of activities for ”The Rights of the Child” awareness campaign and thus officially marking this year, its tenth consecutive year of observing the Convention of the Rights of the Child.
Subsequently since the latest UNICEF publication, the Department of Youth Affairs as it is now formally called, is representing St. Maarten on a regional and international level. The department has been involved and has participated in the Inter- Parliamentary Kingdom Conference held in April 2014 on Aruba.
The UNICEF report was studied by the Kingdom Partners and established that a Kingdom Taskforce should be instituted to collectively develop an action plan based on the recommendations of the UNICEF report and should include child abuse as one of its priority areas. St. Maarten is scheduled to attend another Kingdom Taskforce consultation in the Netherlands to present its draft plan of action in November of this year.
Ten years later, in an effort to advocate the rights and privileges of children on the island, the present Department of Youth Affairs strives to hone its reputation among the youth by fostering a sense of involvement, by creating more policy and implementing diverse programs and activities that aim to “Inspire, Educate and Empower”.