Child 'MPs' debate education, rights at historic parliament
-recommendations to be made today

By Miranda La Rose
Stabroek News
August 7, 1999

Increased suicide among young people, abuse in general, discrimination against persons with physical disabilities and inaccessibility to quality health care, particularly in the hinterland, were among issues debated at the Children's Parliament which got underway yesterday.

Education and training of the nation's children and the exodus of trained teachers also came under focus. The right to compulsory education enacted by legislation was also stressed and the issue of juvenile delinquency was blamed on the family. Recommendations on the issues discussed are to be made later today.

Children from all parts of the country met and debated three articles in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child at the first sitting of the historic first Children's Parliament in the country. The debates focussed on the right to life, the right to good health and the right to a good enough standard of living.

President Janet Jagan and the Assistant Representative of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) local office, Juan Carlos Espinola, had messages for the children. Mrs Jagan delivered her message at the end of yesterday's sitting while Espinola presented his at the opening ceremony. The Children's Parliament was organised by the National Commission on the Rights of the Child in conjunction with the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security and UNICEF. Coordinator of the activity was Shirley Ferguson of the commission.

GBC trainee broadcaster, Merrano Isaacs, served as the Speaker, while Bishops' High School sixth former, Andrea Bryan, was the Clerk of Parliament. Deputy Clerk was North West Secondary student, Althea Forde. Sergeant-at-arms was Ryan Hemraj, also of Bishops' High.

Delivering their views fluently, the students said that non- acceptance of ideas, neglect by the family, families' inability to meet the needs of children along with physical abuse, torture and humiliation were among some of the reasons for the increase in suicide among children and youths.

Noting that persons with disabilities were not catered for in many areas of activities in the country, the children noted that recognising and meeting their needs could make a difference in their right to life.

In terms of health and accessibility to quality health care, it was noted that with regard to the indigenous population many were denied access because of the lack of transportation and the unavailability of drugs in some hinterland communities.

The media was praised for being in the forefront of the promotion of healthy lifestyles and was urged to focus more attention on environmental sanitation especially as it relates to littering and dumping garbage on parapets in the city and towns.

While the speakers representing government focussed on training of teachers, the building of new schools and the introduction of new academic programmes, those on the opposition benches called for better salaries and working conditions for teachers to help stem the migration of instructors to Botswana, the Turks and Caicos, the Bahamas, St Lucia and other countries.

At yesterday's sitting students from nine of the ten administrative regions of the country spoke. Student representatives from Region Nine were reportedly stranded at Lethem yesterday.

The students representing the various regions were from North West Secondary in Region One; Anna Regina Multilateral; Charity Secondary; Abram Zuil and Johanna Cecilia Community High in Region Two; Wales, St John's and Vreed-en-Hoop Community High Schools in Region Three; Bishops' and St Joseph's High Schools in Georgetown; Covent Garden Secondary; Plaisance and Soesdyke Community High Schools in Region Four; Berbice High, New Amsterdam Multilateral, Central Corentyne Secondary, Tagore Memorial High and JC Chandisingh Secondary in Region Six; Bartica Secondary in Region Seven; Paramakatoi Secondary in Region Eight; and Mackenzie High, Linden Foundation, Wismar Christianburg Multilateral and Wismar Hill Primary in Region Ten.

Regions Two, Four, Six, Eight and Ten were on the government benches and Regions One, Three, Five and Seven were on the opposition benches. Both sides identified three main speakers with five supporting speakers. The main speakers were allowed 10 minutes each while the supporting speakers were allowed five minutes.

At the end of the parliamentary debates one student will be elected to represent Guyanese children to present their recommendations in the National Assembly.

In a brief message at the end of yesterday's sitting, President Jagan expressed thanks to all the children who made the parliamentary sessions possible.

She said that in spite of the country's potential wealth, its greatest assets are its children and nothing can surpass that.

She noted that government's policy is to improve the social condition of people and as such has devoted much resources to it as has been spelt out in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Noting that some of the children now taking part in the parliamentary debates will become future parliamentarians, Mrs Jagan told them that they must be prepared for their ideas to be challenged, accepted and rejected.

In his message, Espinola said that the exclusion of children and youth from participating in the decision making process has serious implications for their well being. Experience, he added, has shown that the modern pandemic has been exacerbated by failure to adequately involve young people in effective prevention efforts.

Espinola said that the transmission of HIV/AIDS, substance abuse and youth suicide are such huge problems which impact on youth so directly that only by their active involvement coupled with the right kind of legislation can governments begin to find workable solutions.

He said that as we enter the new millennium "we need to move rapidly from seeing children as passive recipients of welfare to that of understanding their key roles as agents of positive change." He said that the time has come when the children's participation and their rights must be placed at the centre of national development agendas.

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Guyana: Land of Six Peoples