Everything must be done in the interest or well-being of the child

by Lt.Col. Christine King
Guyana Chronicle
April 24, 2000

MANY of us have spent part of our time pondering about the Rights of the Child. When the term was first heard, in typical fashion some people exclaimed - RIGHTS! How can children have rights? There were others who expressed concern with "what is this world coming to? ...No wonder we have so many problems".

This kind of reaction is normal, mainly because of our own socialisation. As children, we were expected to do as we were told, to be seen and not heard, and we were much too young to express how we felt, so during our period of growth and development, we carried around with us "bottled up feelings" which, for some of us, are still unresolved.

I have had persons talk about their childhood experiences in group sessions, and it is amazing to hear the concerns and fears which they had as kids, that they could not share with their own parents - feelings which should have been addressed by their parents so many years ago.

While some people might feel that that kind of socialisation was effective, it seemed to have bought about two extremes today. One in which the child is expected to assume responsibility at a very young age without parental supervision, and the other in which the method of parenting seems so inconsistent that is sends mixed signals to the child. As a consequence, the child's rights become violated one way or another.

The whole issue of rights basically is concerned with the fact that any action to be taken must be done in the interest and well-being of the child.

Since the approval of the Convention of the Rights of the Child by the United Nations General Assembly on 20th November, 1989 and the commitment by the Government of Guyana to achieve the goals of the related charters, there have been a number of activities organised by the National Commission on the Rights of the Child to sensitise all Guyanese on the issue of children's rights.

The Convention begins by defining a child as a "human being below the age of 18,..." unless the law of the country stipulates an earlier age of majority. This does not mean however, that everyone below the age of 18 is incapable of functioning as an adult. An example is early marriage that is encouraged by some cultures; the young persons who get married, like older adults, have a responsibility to each other and to the marital relationship as a whole. So even though a child is considered to be a person under the age of 18 and has rights, that child also has some responsibilities.

What is disturbing is the fact that although we promote children's rights, those rights are "trampled upon" daily. Children in our society continue to suffer abuse and neglect in all forms. The are beaten with sticks, cutlasses, rolling pins, wire rope, bottles and any other object that the adult puts his/her hand on.

Our children are insulted with indecent language by adults, and they are referred to as dunces, `no-goods', and fools among other uncomplimentary names, which ultimately develop into nicknames that the child does in fact portray. If you constantly tell your child or the child in your care that he/she is a dunce, that child will be a dunce! Whatever names we call our children (whether negative or positive) they will eventually play the role.

Our children's rights are also violated by various forms of sexual abuse meted out by adults. We see the stories in the media, although many cases go unreported because of fear on the part of the child, or the reluctance of parents (in most cases the mother) whose response is to abuse the child physically or emotionally or to simply deny that it ever happened.

Additionally, there are many cases of neglect suffered by our children. Whether the neglect occurs because of lack of parental skills or parents simply do not see it as their responsibility, could be a matter for further enquiry and the development of programmes aimed at resolving the problem. Apart from close relative and neighbours who care, teachers do have numerous stories to tell. Little children are known to walk miles to school unaccompanied by adults. There are those who are placed at the back of the class because they are unwashed and unkempt.

Others could be found sleeping in the classroom or begging for food because of inadequate nourishment. Children are even left on their own to fend for themselves, and are thus exposed to all kinds of danger.

I will give brief examples on rights which children have. Contrary to what we think as adults, children have a right to play which is vital to their growth and development. Play has five components - it is fun, it develops the child's emotions; it is concerned with doing and that involves the use of motor skills, it allow the child to be creative and use his/her imagination; it also has to do with thinking and getting along with others.

So play is not just an idle past time. It has value and it is the child's responsibility to be able to engage in healthy and enjoyable play activities with the guidance of parents and caregivers.

The child also has a right to education and also the responsibility to pay attention, complete assignments and follow instructions of the teacher.

We must understand and appreciate therefore that our children do have rights and as parents, guardians and teachers we are to respect those rights. The Convention on the Rights of the Child was not designed to encourage any form of indiscipline on the part of the child nor take away parental responsibility, but rather it aims as reinforcing that responsibility, thus ensuring proper protection of our children and the enhancement of their all round development.