GEORGETOWN, Guyana, CMC – The Council for Human and Social Development (COHSOD) of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) grouping began a meeting here on Tuesday with the region’s top public servant urging zero tolerance to violence against women.
The two-day meeting, being held under the theme “Charting our future: an integrated development agenda for Children and Youth,” will discuss a wide range of issues from early childhood care and development to children and migration as well as violence against children including institutionalised, physical, sexual and psychological violence.
CARICOM leaders at their just concluded annual summit in St. Lucia expressed concern at the high incidence of violence against children in the region, and CARICOM Secretary-General Irwin LaRocque referred to several studies which, he said, pointed to “the jolting reality of increased violence against children and youth in spaces that ironically were once considered safe havens”.
He said that the problem had threatened to erode all of the gains that the region had achieved over the years on the issue.
LaRocque said the problem of incest and child molestation was not only deeply entrenched in traditions and sub-cultures of in some parts of the region, but was very often shrouded in a veil of silence and secrecy.
He urged the Council, comprising ministers nominated by their individual country, to “challenge concertedly and decisively the deeply entrenched cultural practices and norms that condone violence and violate the rights of our children and youth.
“Let us agree that no violence against children and youth can be justified – not those actions cloaked as “tradition” and “culture” and certainly not those disguised as “discipline.
“We must expose … what is frequently considered ‘a private matter among family,’ particularly the vexing issue of incest and child molestation,” LaRocque said, adding that he was of the opinion that greater investment should be made in evidenced-based policies and sustainable social programmes to address the social determinants that perpetuate violence against children and youth.
In this regard, he stressed the importance of social transformation in regional development, suggesting that regional education goals be linked to social development goals.
“It is understood that we cannot enjoy economic development without social development. Our education system - while not a panacea for all social ills - must be one of the main drivers of social transformation.”
LaRocque also recommended that the 10-14 age group be given greater attention in policy formulation, arguing that very often their needs and interests were not directly addressed in any ministerial portfolio in some member states.
He called for the establishment of inter-ministerial bodies for cross-sectoral collaboration on youth development, noting that this was an imperative “if we were to realize the vision of the CARICOM Youth Development Action Plan, which is to create a “secure, valued and empowered adolescents and youth realizing their full potential and contributing to a sustainable Caribbean Community”.
The two-day meeting will also discuss the critical issue of school violence and corporal punishment with a view to developing an integrated agenda for the treatment of youth and children.
Earlier COHSOD Chairman and Guyana’s Minister of Youth, Frank Anthony, said that since the 2008 special COHSOD meeting, the Caribbean has achieved and recorded results with significant impact and improvement in the six agreed thematic areas of the Regional Framework of Action for Children.
“We are here once again in 2012 to review the Regional Framework, to assess the achievements made, the challenges encountered in implementation and identify the gaps that are yet to be filled in those areas. This critical review of the Framework will help us determine how well we have been doing in our endeavour to meet the commitments made to the region’s children, adolescents and youth.
“We are also here to take into consideration of the changing times in which we now live and work with its numerous challenges, and the impact these challenges will have on the decisions we make here.”
But he told his colleagues that notwithstanding the significant gains made since 2008, “we must be cognizant of the fact that these are indeed challenging times for small and developing states like ours and we will continue to face very serious problems compounded by the impact of unacceptable increased levels of crime and violence, effects of climate change and migration on our children and our development.
“The increase in child sexual abuse, particularly intra-familial abuse in the home, teenage pregnancies, childhood obesity and homicides among boys 15 – 18 years are indeed cause for concern and of course, we must keep on the agenda, HIV and AIDS.”