For the children
September 1, 2001
"Any country... any society which does not care for its children is not a nation at all." Nelson Mandela
From September 19 to 21, world leaders, non-governmental and children's organisations child rights' advocates, children and youths will meet at the United Nations General Assembly in New York for its Special Session on Children.
This meeting will be a follow-up to the World Summit for Children held in 1990, where governments pledged to give children a better life and outlined areas in which they felt this could be done. These areas included health and education and specific goals were set, to be achieved by the year 2000. Another significant milepost was the passing of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989. Members of the United Nations signed on acknowledging that children had the right to food, shelter and protection from abuse and neglect among other rights.
The upcoming United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) will seek to examine how many of the goals set at the World Summit were achieved and to recommit to improving the lives of children generally, a far more onerous but imperative task now, 11 years on, with the escalating of the Middle East and other armed conflicts and the spread of HIV.
In the run-up to the UNGASS the United Nations Children's Fund initiated its 'Say Yes for Children' Campaign in countries around the world. This exercise has been ongoing since April this year and was launched in Guyana on August 10.
Eight days later, a 14-year-old boy dies. His cause of death has not yet been officially established, but his father admitted to beating him with "a piece of wood" and putting him out on the streets, clad only in his underwear. While this is not the worst abuse suffered by a Guyanese child (the silent cries of Shelton Job et al still resound in our ears), this is the first time that a parent has publicly gone on record admitting that he physically abused his son and apparently seeing nothing wrong with what he had done.
Despite all this, and some amount of legal toing and froing by the child's parents and grandparents over cremating the body, no formal charges have been filed against anyone for the abuse and/or death of the child. It must be then, that the laws which protect children are ineffectual. If Taigwan Sundar had been an adult, the police would have had the man who beat him in custody, if not already charged with killing him.
This society has a culture of not getting involved in any cause which does not affect us directly. Add to this the voices of those whose parents beat them within an inch of their lives when they were Taigwan's age and younger and who are now "better people because of it," and it becomes painfully obvious why it appears that the vicious cycle has no end.
Guyana will be represented at the UNGASS on Children. Our Head of State or his representatives will travel to New York, rue the plight of starving or AIDS-ridden children in Africa; the fate of child soldiers in Palestine and the Congo and probably consider that their Guyanese counterparts have a lot to be thankful for. And they do, numerous new schools have been built, strides have been made in the immunization against diseases and more children now have access to better health care, among other things. But all this is at the macro level. To the children who cower at the sound of a parent's voice, answer a call from that parent with pounding hearts and dry mouths, or prefer sleeping on cold city pavements to going home, these things have no meaning.
The 'Say Yes Campaign' for Children offers the opportunity to begin/continue the process which hopefully will see a different way of life for such children. It asks parents, neighbours, communities, government, civil society, social service agencies and children to sign a pledge which says: "I believe that all children should be free to grow to adulthood in health, peace and dignity."
It is too late to sign this pledge in the names of our children who have died as a result of abuse, but we can sign it in the names of their siblings and peers. And we can do more, we can lobby for the review of legislation which protect children and advocate for the drafting of specific laws for crimes against children. We can show that we are a nation; that we care for our children. We can get involved.