Published On: Mon, Sep 5th, 2022

Shocking details in UNICEF-report about children’s rights

PHILIPSBURG — UNICEF, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, has so far conducted two studies into the situation of children and adolescents in St. Maarten. The first report was published in 2013 and the second one in 2020. That second report contains some shocking details that urgently need the attention of our decision makers.

The report is entitled Situation Analysis on Children and Adolescents on Sint Maarten 2020. It was produced by the Dutch branch of Unicef and funded by the Dutch Red Cross.

Shocking? Take for instance these findings. Of the people interviewed for the report, 85 percent mentioned violence facing children, adolescents and women as a major issue. And 50 percent thinks that child sexual abuse is a common occurrence in St. Maarten.

The researchers interviewed 43 youngsters and 60 percent of them knew somebody who has been sexually abused. The reality is most likely worse, the report indicates: “These topics are sensitive and taboo and therefore always underreported.”

The report mentions a jump in reported cases of child neglect from 49 in 2017 to 119 in 2018, the year after Hurricane Irma.

The researchers furthermore found that foster homes and group homes do not operate in line with the UN guidelines for the alternative care for children and that the capacity at foster homes is very fragile.

Education is another minefield. Public spending on education is high, as are the enrollment rates, but the report found an unexplained gap between enrollment in primary and secondary education. It is also unclear whether all undocumented children attend school.

The Early Childhood Development (ECD) sector, for children aged 0 to 4, is poorly regulated. There are no quality standards for daycare centers and home-based care. Because the sector is not subsidized, children from poor families have limited access to ECD-programs.

The researchers note that there are no new data available after 2017, the year of Hurricane Irma. From before that time, the researchers note one positive point: vaccination levels are high. On the other hand, 30 percent of the population has no health insurance and obesity is on the rise.

Of the adult population, 29 percent is obese and 38 percent are pre-obese. In the Caribbean region between 28 and 35 percent of children aged 4 to 20 are overweight and half of them are obese.

It obviously did not help that between 2006 and 2016 fruit and vegetables became 2.5 times more expensive while food in general doubled in price.

A survey from 2013 shows that 30 percent of the age group 13-19 thought about suicide and 13 percent actually attempted it. More than half of these adolescents (51 percent) felt lonely and 53 percent felt depressed and hopeless.

Sexual health is yet another issue. A 2016 study of six island states shows that 50 percent of boys and girls experienced “forced sexual initiation.” In other words: they were raped. On the other hand, two-third of the youngsters used a condom the last time they had sex and 60 percent used a condom when they had sex for the first time.

The Unicef-researchers have one overarching recommendation: invest in capacity building in data collection, data analysis and data dissemination to monitor progress on the rights of children and adolescents.

The report points out that all ministries are one way or another involved in advancing the rights of children, making the topic therefore an inter-ministerial responsibility.

And the ministries have plenty to do: “Five important policies have been drafted but they have not approved been approved yet. One of the reasons is political instability,” the report states.

There is a draft national decree for the establishment of a national child rights committee and Unicef obviously recommends to get this one and all other draft policies approved. The report also recommends to research the extent to which undocumented children have access to public services on the Dutch and the French side of the island.