Treaties (or conventions) are international law and, based on a number of decisions from our local court and the Caribbean Court of Justice, they can become incorporated into our laws where they confer rights on citizens.
On April 9, 1990, Barbados became a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and ratified that treaty on October 9, 1990. Article 43 of the Convention provides for the establishment of the Committee on the Rights of the Child whose mandate includes monitoring of the implementation of the Convention by States as well as the work of the various UN agencies.
Barbados has to report to this Committee like all other signatories.
Article 24 of the Convention addresses the standards of health care to be afforded to children (defined as anyone under the age of 18 years). This includes the duty to “develop preventative health care, guidance for parents and family planning education and services.”
In its 33rd Session (May – June 2003), the Council considered the limits of Article 24 and stated that “The Committee understands the concepts of “health and development” in a much broader sense than strictly limited to the provisions defined in Articles 6 and 24 of the Convention, … in order to ensure that adolescents enjoy the highest attainable standard of health, reach harmonious development, be adequately prepared to enter adulthood and assume a constructive role in their community and society at large.”
The Committee also understood that “States Parties should provide adolescents with access to sexual and reproductive information, including on family planning and contraceptives, the dangers of early pregnancy, the prevention of HIV/AIDS and prevention and treatment of STIs. In addition, States Parties should ensure access to appropriate information regardless of marital status, and prior consent from parents or guardians.”
Following the mandate of the Committee, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has issued International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education. Barbados joined UNESCO on the October 24, 1968 and has a permanent delegation to that organization. The guidance is in relation to the creation of programmes to “reduce sexual risk behaviour” and suggests the development a “logic model” using the following four steps of successful programmes.
1) identification of specific health goals (e.g. reducing unintended pregnancy or HIV and other STIs);
2)identification of “specific behaviours that affected pregnancy and HIV/STI rates and that could be changed;”
3)identification of “cognitive (or psychosocial) factors that affect those behaviours (e.g. knowledge, attitudes, norms, skills, etc.);” and
4)creation of “multiple activities to change each factor.”
Far from imposing a cookie-cutter programme, the guidance stipulates that the activities should be “sensitive to community values and consistent with available resources” to avoid failure of programmes where they overlooked such values.
In the event that you were unclear, the guidance goes on to state that “Given that the majority of effective programmes are designed to reduce HIV and other STIs, the most common messages disseminated are that young people should either avoid sexual intercourse or else use a condom every time they have sexual intercourse with every partner.
Some effective programmes also emphasize being faithful and avoiding multiple or concurrent sexual partners. Culturally-specific messages in some countries also emphasize the dangers of ‘sugar daddies’ (older men who offer gifts or treats, often implicitly in return for sexual intercourse). Other programmes encourage testing and treatment for STIs, including HIV.
Programmes concerned with pregnancy prevention tend to emphasize that young people should abstain, delay sexual relations and/or use contraception every time they have sex. Some programmes identify and appeal to important community values e.g. ‘be proud’, ‘be responsible’, or ‘respect yourself’.
I have quoted liberally from this document for reasons which will hopefully become clear. I don’t know if it was with consternation, amusement and/or disbelief that I read that a Government senator described the words which you have just read as “sinister” and “one of the greatest assaults on the health and innocence of children.”
He also described the programme as “teaching children how to obtain sexual pleasure or gratification in various ways including masturbation and oral sex” and that the main goal is “to change the sexual norms of society.”
Senator Durant should first of all go and read the document. After he has read it, he should point out to the rest of us the parts that justify the statements he has made or what “alternative facts” he has relied on. Then he should explain why as a Government senator he is imploring the Government (which he represents) to ignore, neglect or otherwise fail to comply with its international obligations.
Finally, he should pull his head out of the sand and realize that since the dawn of time, children have been having sex with one another and adults with or without tutelage from anyone and whether gay or straight. On only one point do we agree, changing of the sexual norms of society but not in the way in which he means it.
Changing the sexual norms will mean that children are now educated and big nasty old people will not be able to prey on them. It means that they would know how to avoid getting HIV/AIDS or pregnant and derailing their lives before they’ve even begun. Ignorance of the masses is ever a beloved tool of the church.
I am a Christian and an Anglican even though fundamentalists might argue that the two are not compatible. The Anglican Church was disestablished on the April 1, 1969 and there are cogent reasons for the separation of church and state. This episode is a prime example.
(Alicia Archer is an attorney-at-law in private practice)