Barbados is lagging when it comes to the use of communication media to adequately address a number of social issues.
And UNICEF representative for the Eastern Caribbean Khin-Sandi Lwin is calling on policymakers to allow children to participate in the process of change by allowing them to share their opinions.
Lwin was speaking during the official launch of the Team Action International Inc. Speech Festival at the 3W’s Oval on Monday.
She said while young people remained “at the forefront of communication in this age of connectivity”, that communication could be “better directed, better informed and better harnessed for its power and influence”.
The UNICEF official added that while the recent Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) showed a very high rate of access to the Internet in Barbados, there was still a challenge to bring about change through that medium.
“The challenge is how do we harness it so that it serves to do more than just socializing on the social media, so that we can use it for development.
“The young peope of today lead us in social media. You have the floor. How do you propose to use that more effectively so that you are heard, so that you are responsibly putting forth viable solutions to some hard problems such as preventing and addressing child abuse and neglect, child sexual abuse, bullying and violence in schools, rising crime among young people, obesity in childhood, teenage pregnancy, school drop-out, [among others]?”
“We need to seek and listen attentively to new solutions and create solutions to these age-old but increasing problems,” Lwin stressed.
She said the speech festival was one way of helping to address the rights of children to participation, which was “a basic challenge in the region where the maxim is still predominantly, ‘children should be seen and not heard’.”
Lwin said there was “great potential in children to enrich decision-making processes, to share perspectives and to participate as citizens and actors of change”.
However, this did not mean that children’s opinions should be automatically endorsed, but rather that there was “a need” for decision makers to listen to all the views and then decide the best way forward,Lwin said.
The speech festival, which will be held at the 3W’s Oval each day until Thursday, will see a total of about 150 students taking part from 12 secondary and primary schools.
It features public speaking workshops, parliamentary style debating workshops, an environmental awareness debate competition, poetry workshops and an agenda equality speak off contest.
Acting Minister of Education Senator Harcourt Husbands, who was present for this morning’s launch, described the festival as “an incredible opportunity” for the participants. He urged the students to seize the opportunity and make the best use of it, adding that such activities were critical to their development and their future success.