Ascribing priority to the needs of children Editorial
Guyana Chronicle
September 25, 2003

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A LITTLE over two years ago, representatives of agencies and organisations that promote the interest of children gathered at the Umana Yana, Georgetown, to launch the campaign `Say Yes for Children - Guyana 2001’. This was Guyana’s effort in an international campaign, believed to have been initiated by Mr Nelson Mandela, former President of South Africa, and his wife Ms Graca Machel. The primary goal of the campaign was to gather thousands of signatures of persons who would seek to promote the safety and well-being of children in their several environments.

Guyana learnt that the `Say Yes for Children’ initiative articulated ten basic goals or actions, which were expected to impact positively on the lives of the world’s children. The actions were: “Leave no child out; Put children first; Care for every child; Fight HIV/AIDS; Stop harming and exploiting children; Listen to children; Educate every child; Protect children from war; Protect the earth for children and Fight poverty - invest in children.” Participating nations were invited to add to this list any action or goal the authorities deemed necessary to address particular situations.

As this column had noted in August 2001, the goals and actions incorporated into the ‘Say Yes for Children’ campaign are positive, laudable and inspiring, and we appealed to all churches and religious organisations, social and service bodies and agencies to subscribe to these stated objectives. These bodies should also try to persuade their members to embrace the goals on a personal level.

We must note here that since the ‘Say Yes for Children’ campaign was launched, it appears as if some heartless individuals have devoted themselves to committing more acts of abuse on children. While it could be that parents are becoming more confident in reporting cases of physical and sexual abuse perpetrated on innocent children and even toddlers, there is certainly the perception that not a week passes without a report of some unspeakable violation of a child. We know that child molestation, like acts of domestic violence, cuts across classes in society and occur in developing as well as in advanced countries. Yet, as a nation with strong religious traditions, we would like to believe that such repugnant acts against children and babies are beyond the pale of acceptable behaviours practised in this land.

This is why the ‘Say Yes for Children’ initiative seemed such a wonderful development. No doubt, ordinary God-fearing Guyanese saw its message as a re-affirmation of an unwritten code to ascribe priority to the physical, mental and psychological well-being of all children. Parents, grandmothers and guardians would choose to spend quality time with children reading with them and listening to their thoughts and views on their immediate environment. Apart from ensuring that they are properly fed and housed and educated, parents have a duty to love and protect their young ones from unnecessary stress, perils and trauma. They have to instil in their offspring positive values and a sense of rightness about issues so that when those children attain adulthood they would be useful and contributing members of society.

Over the last half-century, international bodies such as the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) have sprouted various human rights umbrellas for the protection of children worldwide. While a great number of children exist in loving and caring home environments, millions of youngsters in the teeming communities of poor, underdeveloped countries are half-starved, maltreated, forced into physical labour, condemned to live in hordes in city streets, exploited by sexual predators, enlisted in military outfits and forced into killing other children and unsuspecting adults. Thousands of children in the poor countries of the Third World are denied access to education because of the abject poverty of their families and communities; others exist in hovels where they easily contract diseases that shorten their miserable lives; thousands run away from the hell that is home and take their chances on the streets where the terrors of life are more manageable.

At the launch of the ‘Say Yes for Children’ initiative, Human Services Minister Ms Bibi Shadick noted that while in Guyana there are no starving children with pot-bellies and stick-like arms and legs, this nation still has a far way to go in ensuring that children are afforded every possible opportunity to develop to their full potential. It would be instructive for the rest of the country to learn how much the situation of the disadvantaged has improved since the ‘Saying Yes for Children’ campaign was launched.