Twenty four years ago, one year after the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC) was adopted by the United Nations, Barbados became a signatory.
Since that time, this country has been striving to ensure compliance with the dictates of the Convention and protect the rights of children.
These can be broadly stated as: ensuring that children have the right to possess, receive or have access to certain things or services, for example a name and a nationality, health care, education, rest and play and care; the right to be shielded from harmful acts and practices, for example, separation from parents, engagement in warfare, commercial or sexual exploitation and physical and mental abuse; and the right to be heard on decisions affecting his or her life.
Over the years, a number of programmes and initiatives have been implemented by the Government of Barbados, one of the most recent being the re-launch of the National Committee for Monitoring the Rights of the Child, which was held earlier this year.
Its mandate is to advise the Minister with responsibility for children on the Implementation of the Articles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child; advocate, advise and make recommendations on issues and policies aimed at protecting and promoting the rights of children; to facilitate public education exercises aimed at sensitising communities and building partnerships with respect to the implementation of the Convention; and ensure timely reporting on the Convention to the relevant international monitoring authorities.
It is also tasked with sensitising the public, particularly parents, on their roles and responsibilities.??One of the activities planned by the committee to sensitise persons to the importance of recognising the rights of children was a rally held recently at the Hilton Barbados to celebrate 25 years that the United Nations has been advocating for the rights of children. The event was organised in collaboration with the United Nations Children???s Fund.
While addressing patrons at that event, Minister of Social Care, Constituency Empowerment and Community Development, Steven Blackett, urged them to realise that respecting the rights of children meant that the voice of the child must be heard and respected in all matters concerning his or her rights.
???It is no exaggeration to say that violations of children???s rights compromise a country???s future prosperity and ability to build lasting peace. We must therefore commit to do everything we can to prevent violations and rise to the challenges of protecting the children of our nation,??? he implored.
However, the Minister was quick to point out that this in no way meant that parents relinquished their rights, but that both parties could communicate and voice opinions in an amicable manner.
That position was reiterated by Champion of Children???s Rights in Barbados, Faith Marshall-Harris. ???It is my belief that children cannot enjoy these rights if the CRC is not fully embraced by adults who are directly involved in children???s lives, that is, parents, guardians and those persons who by dint of their dedication and commitment through both inclination and profession are committed to advancing these rights.
???I have always found it necessary to emphasise that the CRC does not negate parental rights but endorses and assists parents in the protection of children. Where parental responsibility fails, the State or Government is required to assist them in furthering children???s rights,??? she stated.
Mrs. Marshall-Harris also stressed that the rights spoken of in the Convention were not, as popularly thought, imported from abroad, but could be found in the Barbados Constitution. ???As a country, Barbados has always been in the forefront of promoting, protecting and providing for all human rights, long before the Convention of the Rights of the Child was developed. Barbados??? Constitution of 1966 contains a significant Bill of Rights.
???That document spoke to all citizens (children included). Therefore, embracing the Convention was no giant leap for us because it simply affirmed what we already held sacred. The Convention went further in focusing our attention on the specific needs of children, one of the most vulnerable sectors of our society,??? she stressed.
The CRC provides protection for persons below the age of 18, or until they are considered adults by the laws of their country. Its most important consideration is the best interest of the child.