A new year boon Editorial
Stabroek News
January 3, 2004

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Finally, though it could have been sooner, a project has begun which seeks to protect children from violence. Started in October last year, the project is a joint effort of the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) and the Ministry of Labour, Human Services and Social Security, and these two entities have stated in a release issued through the Government Information Agency that it is to be executed in three phases.

The most exciting part of the project, which will no doubt prove to be the most useful as well, is a study, which forms part of the first phase and which will eventually assess the impact of all forms of violence among children and adolescents aged three to 18 years as well as the contributing factors.

Because there are no statistics or database on children and violence, such a study, once properly conducted will be immensely useful. Its importance to the current project is palpable, since it would be meaningless to undertake interventions where the extent of the problem is unknown. Perhaps this explains why earlier interventions have not been wholly successful and kudos is due to UNICEF for providing the finances for such significant research and to the organisations and individuals who will execute it.

It is regrettable that the study will be limited to 51 communities, 102 schools and some 4,000 children. However, conducting a nationally representative study would present mind-boggling difficulties, which recent census-takers could no doubt attest to, as well as endlessly delay other aspects of the project.

A National Child Protection Monitoring System is to be set up in the second phase of the project and this is with the aim of improving and identifying the gaps within the existing child protection process. This component is one which needs to be ongoing, given the factors involved and for which ongoing funding will be necessary. The Human Services Ministry, which is charged with child protection, should endeavour to have financing provided for monitoring in its budget for when the current project ends, or seek extra-budgetary support from available resources such as the United States Peace Corps or similar agencies.

The piloting of peace education and non-violent conflict resolution interventions in five communities in the third component of the project will not only benefit children upon whom violence is wreaked, but their entire communities. Ensuring that children learn non-violence at an early age protects them and their peers from what could possibly be deadly situations. The potential benefit to future generations would be difficult to quantify.

One would hope that by the time this project ends awareness would have been created which would allow for documentation of violence against children, perhaps at the regional level, and that this information would eventually be fed into a national database. The project is currently being guided by a widely representative advisory board, and perhaps this could be maintained if not indefinitely, at least beyond the life of the project. The organisations and groups represented should be allowed to interchange their nominees, notwithstanding the fact that all these persons have had to sign confidentiality contracts.

The commencement of this project is a definite new year boon to the children of Guyana. Hard work, commitment and the desire to protect them - and undoubtedly these exist among its managers and workers - will see it to a fruitful end.