A background on the National Commission on the Rights of the child

by Lt Col Christine King
Guyana Chronicle
April 19, 1999

BY NOW you should be aware of the existence of the National Commission on the Rights of the Child, as two consecutive Viewpoints had been aired recently to give listeners and the community at large, a background on the organisation and functions of this body as well as its areas of focus.

Arising out of the United Nations World Summit for Children and four Ministerial Meetings on Children, were the International Convention on the Rights of the Child, and a number of related documents, which point to the rights of children to survival, protection and development as well as specific actions to be implemented by Governments, in order to attain those objectives.

The Government of Guyana has committed itself to achieving the goals of those charters, and has thus agreed to the establishment of a National Commission on the Rights of the Child, to look at situations in which rights of children may have been unfulfilled or violated, promote the principles reflected in the Articles of the Convention, design programmes, and contribute to the formulation of policies to be implemented on behalf of children generally.

One of the areas of concern, is the importance of the family as a basic unit of society, which affords the child proper protection, and provides him/her with adequate conditions for total development. In recent times, we have witnessed the changing structure of families and households resulting from rapid changes in our society. Greater demands on the time of parents, seem to have caused a shift in the traditional roles of mother and father which in some cases, have led (especially in the single parent family) to the emergency of the "Parental Child", who without a choice, takes on the role of mother. These children suffer the most, for they are sometimes forced to drop out of school at an early age to take care of their siblings. It goes without saying that children from such family groups are often deprived of basic child care, stable family life and a sound education. Additionally, as the offspring of single women who get little or no support from male partners, they are often materially deprived.

The decline of the extended family structure has also contributed to changing roles in the family. Many grandparents now earn a living outside of the home and consequently, they no longer give support in terms of providing the care and nurturing of grandchildren. Again too, there has been a shift in the relationship among neighbours who in a sense could also be considered part of the extended family. In the past, families could have depend on neighbours and even older members of the community to take care of, and even discipline their children. Today this is taboo! Persons other than parents dare not correct those children. In the end who suffer most? The children of course, who are often left on their own for long hours, exposed to all kinds of danger when the neighbour next door could give a "watchful eye" and offer protection.

Migration of members of families from rural to urban areas and from one country to another in search of a "better life" is another factor which has certainly affected the structure of known family forms. While the ultimate aim is for the family to reunite at some point, the struggle to maintain one's self while acquiring the necessities for the comfort of the family is not always achieved. In the meanwhile, children are left in the care of grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends who may themselves be experiencing difficulties in their quest for survival for themselves and their own families. Failure on the part of the parent(s) abroad to adequately support these children financially, may cause the guardians frustration and anger, leaving the children at the receiving end to bear the brunt of all kinds of abuse. This situation could have a spin-off effect in that it may hinder the performance of the children in school or force them to resort to all kinds of deviant behaviour.

What I have just presented is only a `tip of the iceberg' as it relates to unfulfilled rights and/or violation of the rights of children resulting from the fragmentation of the family as a social institution.

Although there is a National Commission for the Family and that body has its own mandate, members of the National Commission on the Rights of the Child intend to network with as many agencies and organisations to improve the lot of children and families as a whole, because we recognise that the life of a child without a family - whether it is the nuclear, extended, blended single parent, or foster family - could be a very dismal one.

We call on non-governmental and social organisations including the church, as well as other agencies and groups to support this national cause by developing programmes aimed at cementing the family, so that children in our society could receive appropriate protection and guidance in order to develop mentally and physically and to have a positive sense of self.

Parents and care-givers must accept responsibility for their children. It is irresponsible and unkind for anyone to reproduce a child and abandon or neglect him/her. We often hear the declaration of children that they did not ask to be born, and that is so very true. The onus is therefore on all individuals to take responsibility for their actions. Those children are our future; if we neglect them, then our future will certainly be a reflection of our action.

Children have a need for belonging, love and care and these needs could only be fully met within the realms of the family. Despite the many problems which we face, we can all play a part in correcting this dilemma by encouraging every person to work toward establishing and maintaining strong and healthy families.