Yesterday was World’s Children Day, so designated to celebrate children and demand action for their rights.
Gone are days when children ere expected to be seen and not heard. Thankfully today, an age of enlightenment on children accepts that these precious gifts of life deserve to be nurtured and protected.
According to the United Nations convention that this country adopted nearly 30 years ago, a child has the right to life; protection from violence; protection from physical abuse; protection from sexual abuse; protection from neglect; dignity and respect; protection from child labour and human trafficking and protection from illegal drugs.
At a children’s rally at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre to mark the occasion, Barbados was praised for making strides in defending children’s rights as human rights.
UNICEF’s representative to Barbados and Eastern Caribbean Dr Aloys Kamuragiye, highlighted how Barbados has managed to significantly reduce its child mortality rate in the years since the Convention on the Rights of the Child was adopted.
He also commended us for performing well in providing free pre-school education for citizens, and almost reaching universal access to secondary education, an area that has proved a challenge to many other developed countries.
Yet there are some glaring gaps to be filled.
Unsurprisingly the UN official advocated that there be more action to reduce violence against children.
Indeed, our society has roused from its slumber to the horror of violence against children.
Yet too many unrestrained adults resort to using “reasonable” physical violence as a punishment for disobedience, excusing it away by saying we, too, were beaten at every turn and it has done us no harm.
And yet we have angry, aggressive adults who hardly need provocation before unleashing their fury, leaving us to wonder why.
Progress is possible and much has already been made. But if we wish to free our society from the scourge of violence and abuse in all forms, the time has come for our culture and our leaders to send a clear message that inflicting violence on children can never be justified, excused or ignored.
Dr Kamuragiye then turned his attention to the growing epidemic of childhood obesity.
Certainly, as a country, we are all too aware of the impact of non-communicable diseases on productivity and the public purse.
A ban on sugar-sweetened beverages and sugary snacks is long overdue and we urge our authorities to act lest we pay a much higher price as unhealthy children become unhealthy adults.
The biggest concern of Dr Kamuragiye, though, has been the mental health of our children.
He said: “ We see statistics that show us that more and more in Barbados and across the Eastern Caribbean; it is becoming a significant issue to extent that we would like to see the Government of Barbados, the different sectors start to tackle this significant issue of mental health because one in four children, age 13 to 15-years-old contemplate committing suicide, having suicidal thoughts, and that affects more girls than boys.”
As a society, we have to confront this disturbing problem directly.
We can reduce and perhaps even halt this trend by paying genuine love and care to the children in our families, churches, schools and social circles.
Children who are bullied stressed sad, lonely or otherwise distressed need attention from someone who cares.
We urge that we don’t look the other way, that we get involved and possibly save a life.
There is no shame in tackling this problem head-on and seeking professional help.
The greater shame would be in the abandonment of our duty of care for our children and a failure to recognise their rights as indivisible and inalienable – not merely because a 30-year-old article of international law requires it but because reason, justice, and dignity demand it.