The Convention on the Rights of the Child requires the state to guarantee not only basic rights for children, such as access to education, health and protection, but also to ask children for their opinion and to allow them to participate in decision-making about matters that concern them. In this magazine we take a look at children’s rights in Sint Maarten.
Member of the Child Protection Working Group (CPWG)
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) was drafted and ratified in 1989 and took effect several months later in 1990. With the goal to establish rights and provisions for children in the social, health, cultural, political and economic spheres, each signatory country has pledged to strive for the enforcement of said rights across the board with no discrimination or biases. Sint Maarten also has an obligation to live up to the CRC as a constituent of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, which has signed up to the treaty.
While the truth rings loudly that our children are indeed our future, the popular slogan “Our Children, Our Future” is not just that of the Kingdom Taskforce for Children’s Rights, of which Sint Maarten is a proud partner, but is widely known to be a symbolically used buzz phrase by (prospective) leaders in every country around the world, to help advance their political agenda among the youth voting population.
Unfortunately, to the dismay of many youth advocates, many people of different cultures, governments or nations either do not honour the rights of children or simply feel that children are not entitled to any rights because they are minors. In our multicultural society, some parents are even outright against the idea of children having rights. In particular, when discussing this topic, many people remain fixed only on the debate of discouraging the use of violence and abuse as a means to discipline their child. They fail to see and moreover understand the entire children’s rights landscape for what it represents, which is to protect and produce independent, productive and socially balanced children.
However, the Rights of the Child goes far beyond the talks of abuse and violence; it regulates many benefits that are not considered to be luxuries afforded to children. The convention sets a standard to guarantee the basic rights that all children can grow up in a safe, healthy and nurturing environment through access to education, proper sanitation, food and housing, as well as by providing access to platforms so children can voice their opinions, or more importantly, participate in decision making on matters that effect their lives.
Children’s rights can be realized through protective laws designed to eradicate any kind of exploitation of children and provide equal treatment for all. The good news is that Sint Maarten, through its government agencies and stakeholders, has made great strides in setting standards to improve the lives of its children and youth when compared to earlier decades, but acknowledges that there is still much work to be done. Nevertheless, we must realize that our children are not only our future, but also our present. The Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth & Sport affirms that there will be no turning back and no child must be left behind!
Advocacy and strengthening capacity in the area of children’s rights and youth development is and remains the top priority. The Department of Youth, through its policies, programs and activities, is steadfast in its role to monitor and guide policy making processes and procedures for the benefit of every child, with the aim to “inspire, educate and empower”. Hopefully, this magazine will contribute to this aim and inspire all our professionals working with children.
Sophia Farrell-Hassell, manager of Alexander’s Early Stimulation & Development Foundation and president of SECDA, advocates for more support in the early childhood development sector on Sint Maarten. “Good early childhood development programs set a foundation in skills that children need for their future.”
“Young children are like sponges; they can absorb so much information. You can really see firsthand the influence you have on children as a teacher. This is also why it is so important for me to advocate for more support in the early childhood development sector on Sint Maarten.
As a child, I already pretended to be a teacher. As the oldest child of my nieces and brother, I would sit them down and ‘teach classes’. So, it was only natural for me to look into working in education once I turned 18. The timing was perfect, as Sint Maarten was offering a 2-year evening program on early childhood development right after I finished high school. Over the years I have also gotten an Associate’s degree in daycare/preschool management and followed dozens of other courses related to my profession.
Manager of Alexander’s Early Stimulation & Development Foundation and President of SECDA
Soon after I got my first degree, I received the opportunity to run a new preschool in Simpson Bay. The school grew from 3 students to 40, and it was hard leaving the island in 2001, to move to Saint Kitts with my husband. However, Saint Kitts did offer a number of great learning opportunities. It also exposed me to seeing how daycares were managed on a different island, with a lot more government support.
In 2008, I returned home to Sint Maarten to help take care of my mom. I founded Alexander’s, soon after. Alexander’s consists of two locations; one is a preschool that caters to children 0 – 4 years old. The other is an afterschool program for children up to 12 years old. In the preschool program, the teachers put a lot of emphasis on interactive and playful learning. We teach through songs, games, rhymes, and stories, using some modified methods of the ‘Highscope Curriculum’. Our afterschool program also incorporates a lot of activities such as tennis, track and field, swimming, and soccer. Children need that stimulation and playtime. It helps them learn better, stay focused longer, and be happy well-rounded individuals.
Foremost as an educator and mother I believe in the importance of creating a safe space for children to share their feelings and thoughts. Teaching children to openly and effectively communicate at a very young age, gives them a much better head start in life. I recommend listening to children without interrupting them, and also encouraging discussion amongst their peers. If they approach me with a problem, I first give them the chance to figure out the solution themselves. Children that grow up in environments that do not allow for self-expression are more likely to have low self-esteem and feel like they aren’t important. This can lead to many other related issues, even into adulthood. Unfortunately, not every child has the opportunity to go to a (good) preschool in Sint Maarten. This is one of the reasons I helped establish the Sint Maarten Early Childhood Development Association (SECDA).
SECDA is an umbrella organization of currently 21 daycare centres on the island. We advocate the importance of early childhood development. At the moment we provide workshops for staff at preschools, parents, and host team or family building events. Despite our efforts to push for more support for preschools, there has been no improvement in consistent financial support available to us.
Preschools on Sint Maarten do not have access to government subsidies. This means that preschools have to survive on the fees that they collect for their students from parents. This means that if a parent, for example from a low-income household, cannot pay, the child does not have access to the education system until they are old enough to go to Kindergarten.
In practice, many of our preschools try to give discounts or sponsor children whose parents cannot pay. But this means that the preschools are paying for these children out of their own pocket. Preschools are not a ‘rich’ business and since hurricane Irma, and now the pandemic, a number of schools have had to close their doors.
In Saint Kitts or Anguilla for example, preschools are subsidized. Parents, who can pay, pay a fee and parents who have a low-income pay less, or do not have to pay at all. On Sint Maarten, low-income families do not have this support for their children. This means that some children cannot go to preschool, or that some preschools are forced to take on too many children to pay the cost of running the school. The latter comes at a cost to the quality of the education and results in overworked teachers.
This gap of proper early childhood development during the first 4 years of a child’s life will often result in long-term setbacks, even into adulthood. Good early childhood development programs provide a solid foundation for the social, academic and behavioral skills that children need for their future learning. Personally, I think it would be a lot cheaper for our Government to subsidize preschools, than to fix all the issues resulting from the current lack of proper early childcare and education.
The right to a proper education is a right every child has. However, this right is not available to every child on Sint Maarten between 0 to 4 years old. I hope that with more awareness about this issue, the much-needed financial support will become available in the early childhood development sector.”
Children of Sint Maarten are debating policy matters and advising the government. It’s the result of the #MyNewWorld project, which aims to give practical shape to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Some of the advice: improve online learning and sports facilities and revitalize Philipsburg, with cultural and youth activities.
Traditionally children do not vote and therefore do not often actively participate in political processes. Without special attention to the opinions of children, the views of young people on important issues that currently affect them, or which might affect them in the future, are often unheard.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child promotes the right of the child to be heard and to have access to information. Children have the right to participate in decision-making processes that may be relevant to their lives and to influence decisions taken in this regard, either within the family, the school or the community. This means that children have the right to express their opinion, they should be asked for their opinion, and their opinion should be listened to. This is what UNICEF’s new project #MyNewWorld is all about.
Last year, dozens of young people between the ages 13 and 18 from Curaçao, Aruba, Bonaire, Sint Maarten, Sint Eustatius and Saba participated in UNICEF’s ‘My New World’ project. The project included several workshops, debates, and guidance to help the youth formulate and share their opinions. The central questions being, what would their ideal world look like in light of the corona crisis – and what would their advice to their Government be?
The views and actions of our youth within society can make a big difference. Some examples include teenagers Greta Thunberg, who inspires worldwide climate action discussions, and Malala Yousafzai, who continues to fight for universal education for girls. Young people have the power to speak up against injustices in the hope of making the world a better place. They can challenge the Government and other institutions to take more action on issues that affect and matter to them.
The #MyNewWorld project encouraged young people to share their opinions and get actively involved with the governance of their country. The project lasted approximately two months. It began with brainstorming sessions and discussions between participants, who were divided into various focus groups, and asked difficult questions to stimulate discussions, the outcomes of which formed the basis for their advice to Government.
In the next phase of the project, through debate classes with mentors, the young people learned how to lobby for their plans and to explain and constructively motivate their advice. Following the debate training, an interisland debate was held between Sint Maarten, Sint Eustatius and Saba. At the same time, young people from Bonaire debated with their peers from Curaçao and Aruba. These debates provided an opportunity for the debating skills acquired by the young people to be put to practice.
“The training for the debate was extremely smooth and was loads of fun. This training set the standard of what needs to be done in a debate and how to debate on an international level. I felt that I was prepared for the debate and performed well”, a participant from Sint Maarten says.
On all six islands, the young people held a meeting with local government representatives. Ministers, parliamentarians, commissioners, and island council members all had an opportunity to discuss the young people’s advice with them. Concrete topics were discussed, such as the expansion of sports facilities, improved online education and more possibilities for youth participation.
On Sint Maarten, the priorities identified by participants of #MyNewWorld were firstly the improvement of online learning through regulation and standardization of instruction platforms so that every student is ensured quality (online) tools and education; secondly, the improvement of sports facilities and activities, and better coordination and promotion of sports events and thirdly, revitalizing Philipsburg by adding more cultural and youth activities, green spaces, and supporting more economic activity.
“I am thankful for this opportunity for us as the future leaders of Sint Maarten to express our concerns and possible solutions regarding issues in our country”, says Breanna Silvers (16). “I chose to get involved to speak about the different issues in my country and to see how I can make a change. It has truly been a great experience, and I believe that as young leaders, we can make a difference.”
My New World participants
There’s no lack of ideas among the members of the Sint Maarten Youth Parliament, who are trained in politics, debating and critical thinking. The first step is taken, but they are not yet completely satisfied. “We see things adults don’t see and are just as invested as adults in wanting a prosperous life and island.”
“The opinion of the youth is often neglected. We aim to take a stand and share our ideas on behalf of our peers,” 16-year-old Breanna Silvers states.
Breanna, Kadar Gumbs, Jamie Lynch and Breyenne Brown are four members of the Sint Maarten Youth Parliament. The group, fifteen teens strong, is supervised by community leader Connie Francis-Gumbs. Youth Parliament provides training to the youth ages 13 and up, in government & politics, parliamentary procedures, debating, critical thinking & reasoning skills.
Jamie: “Being part of this group has improved my public speaking and helped me feel more comfortable expressing myself.” Kadar agrees: “I don’t think I’d be doing this interview if it wasn’t for my experiences in Youth Parliament, I am usually a quiet guy.”
Last year the group participated in UNICEF The Netherlands’ #MyNewWorld. The project encouraged young people to share their opinions, through discussions, debates, and presentations to elected officials. Breanna: “In Youth Parliament, we aim to present to Parliament at least once a year. So, the #MyNewWorld project matched our goals and helped us better formulate our opinions and advice.”
However, the group also admits that despite the ‘in-the-moment’ excitement of being able to present to Parliament, they are frustrated with the lack of follow up: “In speeches, we always hear ‘the youth is the future’. Yet, our opinion and advice is not taken seriously. But this is not just with Parliament, it is with adults in general – they don’t include us in decision-making. This is always disappointing.”
Sint Maarten has an estimated population of 40,614 inhabitants. The child population (under 18 years) is 9,888 (Factsheet Population 2018, Department of Statistics). This means that 1 in 4 residents on Sint Maarten are children.
Breyenne, who is one of the strongest debaters in the group states: “How will you fully understand and help the youth without asking them what they need? We have a lot of valid points and ideas because we feel the challenges first-hand.” At the beginning of each (school) year, the members of Youth Parliament decide on a theme for the year, on which they will focus their discussions and advice to the public and government, including Parliament. This year two themes were chosen: education and sports.
Kadar: “Education and dealing with Covid-19 is hard. Online learning does not work, and my school doesn’t have enough space to follow safety guidelines safely.”
The group agrees that schools and teachers are “doing their best”, but that they should make more effort to standardize the apps used in online learning such as using only Google Classrooms and Zoom. Also, they should make online classes more creative and engaging for students, and lastly, ensure that every student has access to a proper device and internet.
Breyenne: “I enjoy sports, and so do many of my friends. However, we feel like it isn’t accessible to everyone. Many kids can’t pay a sport club fee, proper sports clothes, or the right equipment. We have to resort to begging friends, family or businesses for contributions.”
The group would like to see subsidies made available for families that cannot afford memberships or gear for children. In addition, they would also like to see more support for local athletes. “So many other islands have top athletes that they celebrate, market, and sponsor, but here that hardly happens.”
Jaime: “Adults say ‘get off your phone’ or ‘why all these youth loitering on the street’, yet, there are not nearly enough safe places or amenities for our age group to have fun at. Philipsburg used to be a cool area to hang out in, but now it is like a ghost town. The ‘happening’ areas are just full of bars.” Revitalizing Philipsburg is also one of the conclusions that was presented to Parliament in January 2021. Game rooms, internet accessibility, more lighting, youth-friendly snack bars, and removal of old buildings are ideas that came up during this interview.
When asked what other issues concern the group, they mention violence, poverty, LGTBQ+ equality, job opportunities, and mental health. The latter, the group is incredibly passionate about. Breanna: “Mental health is not addressed at all, but it is a serious and growing issue. Often when the youth talk about being depressed or angry, we are not taken seriously. This also plays a part in the increase in youth violence.” She recalls the two recent suicides in January 2021 and March 2020. Some of the members knew the victims personally: “It is really sad, and we feel like it might have been prevented if there was more help available.”
“You’re too young to understand”, “You are being dramatic,” and “Just focus on school” – are some of the responses the group gives as an example of ‘adult responses’. “One of the reasons we don’t get the help we need is because we feel like adults ignore and belittle us,” Breanna explains. Privacy and support are two qualities the group expresses that are very important in an ‘adult confidant’. Breyenne: “My school counsellors are amazing; they don’t judge, they listen to me, and don’t share what we talk about with others.”
“So many of the youth on Sint Maarten have to take on real ‘adult problems’, like financial difficulties, violence at home, taking care of their siblings. This is not fair in itself and makes it even less fair that we are not included in the decision making of our island. We see things adults don’t see and are just as invested as adults in wanting a prosperous life and island,” expresses the Youth Parliament in conclusion.
Readers are encouraged to follow the Sint Maarten Youth Parliament on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sxmyouthparliament and share and comment on their lively debates.
Interested young people are also welcomed to join in on meetings held on Saturdays at the Rupert I Maynard Youth Community Centre. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for meeting information.
Breyenne and Kadar working
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child consists of 54 articles. Every child has rights, whatever their ethnicity, gender, religion, language, abilities or any other status. All the rights are linked and no right is more important than another.
Click on each right to learn more
The Public Prosecutor’s Office Sint Maarten is working on tackling child abuse in various ways. Still, there’s a lot to be done, says Public Prosecutor Geert Steeghs. Not only as far as criminal law is concerned, but also in the area of prevention. ‘Social change needs to happen.’
“We have to offer support and opportunities for the youth to help them become contributing members of society. On Sint Maarten, poverty-related issues and a lack of preventative education, programs, and facilities contribute heavily to youth delinquency and other crimes,” explains Geert Steeghs, the Public Prosecutor for the Youth and Morals Division at the Public Prosecutor’s Office.
Seated next to him are Brenda Koek, Policy Advisor and Marushka Kortram, Legal Advisor, who also work on cases with youth victims or defendants. Brenda works on cases involving domestic violence too. “We contribute to protecting children’s rights by prosecuting cases where the children’s rights are violated in a criminal sense. We also try to help protect the rights of suspects or offenders who are minors.”
Brenda Koek, Marushka Kortram and Geert Steeghs
“Minors have more substantial rights than adult defendants. For example, a suspect who is a minor must have legal representation present during questioning. Pre-trial detention is an exception to the rule. This applies even more to minors. Pre-trial detention is only applied as a last resort. Another difference is that trials involving minors under sixteen are dealt with behind closed doors (no public or media can be present). Also, sentences are lower. Juvenile detention is maximized at 1, 2, or 4 years depending on the crime. Community service or other conditions instead of detention time are considered more carefully.
At the moment, we have the Miss Lalie Center, which is a youth detention centre for male offenders under 21 years old. This has better rehabilitation options than the prison, although many improvements could be made. At the moment, we do not have a facility like this to hold female youth offenders. This poses a problem if a female who is a minor is involved in a serious crime. There is also a crucial gap in resources to detain and rehabilitate minors involved in less serious crimes.”
“There is an increase in the frequency and scale of the crimes that are committed by minors. For example, over the past years, we have seen a spike in youth violence, such as fights in and around schools. These can get particularly violent, and on top of that, others cheer it on and share it on social media such as Facebook. This has been a concern in the community for a while. We feel that many of these crimes can be prevented with the right resources.
Programs and facilities to support at-risk youth are severely lacking. We notice that although there are many reports and research available, the actual implementation of prevention programs is not followed through.
We sometimes see minors or adolescents commit serious violent crimes such as (attempted) manslaughter or armed robberies, who have been known by the court of guardianship, schools, police or other community organizations for years. In a sense they were accidents waiting to happen. Earlier and more structural interventions could have prevented at least some of these incidents.”
“Corporal punishment falls under the maltreatment law of Sint Maarten. If someone hits you and you experience any level of pain, this can be seen as maltreatment. This means that corporal punishment is also prohibited in all settings, including the home. So yes, we have a powerful law against corporal punishment. Corporal punishment, which is physical abuse, is a huge issue, and it is entrenched in some parts of society and through intergenerational transfer. In practice, on Sint Maarten, only extreme cases of physical abuse are prosecuted.”
“Unfortunately, the abuse is often not reported. At times reported crimes such as abuse could also be viewed by the law as a “he said – she said” situation without enough supporting evidence. In some cases, people who filed a report retract their statement later and become unwilling to continue with the case. This happens because the people involved are also dependent on their abuser. The victim might be scared as well, as there are too few options currently available to protect the victim. Similarly, witnesses might be unwilling to provide statements.
Another issue we face is that people can easily cross the border to the French Side or to another country. We have to first request a transfer of the case to French Authorities. Sint Maarten often does not have the appropriate extradition treaties with countries, notably some surrounding islands such as St. Kitts and Nevis, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, etc., to extradite a person legally. At times, the victim only feels safe enough to file an official report once the abuser has moved off the island. We have cases of girls of 6, 8 and 9 years old that were abused by extended family members who have fled the island. You are not going to find them.”
“Again, education and prevention are vital in preventing crimes and encouraging people to report more quickly, accurately, and frequently. The low socioeconomic status of people, which contribute to dependency on a victim’s abuser, are much more challenging to solve. Until those are resolved, our country should provide more access to facilities such as Safe Haven. Extradition treaties with more countries, especially surrounding islands, should also be looked at.
A better ‘flagging system’ to stop people from leaving the island could also be developed; however, there are other means to quickly ‘flee’ as well, such as by boat. It is important to note that we can still go ahead with the trial proceedings even if the defendant does not show up for trial or is in another country. If found guilty, the offender’s sentence will be enforced once he or she returns and is arrested on Sint Maarten.”
“Historically, the Prosecutor and Police Department focuses on investigating the crime and punishing the offender. Victims got far less attention. Informing the victim on the status of the investigation and the rights during the trial can avoid disappointment, frustration or unmet expectations and help in dealing with grief and anger. To improve on this, we set up a victim support division last year. The goal is to keep victims better and more proactively updated on their case, manage expectations, and give them more opportunities to express their opinions related to their case. We also prepared a ‘victim support’ handbook for everyone in our office to follow. Victim’s rights and enhancing the role of the victim still needs to be addressed further however, in all organizations involved.”
Under European law, every suspect is allowed to wait for his verdict in freedom. By law, we cannot place a person in pre-trial detention without sufficient proof that he or she is a danger to the community. In addition, pre-trial detention is also hard to enforce due to the lack of space in prison. When, for example, a male is accused of inappropriately touching a minor, and he denies all charges and has no criminal history on record, we do not have enough law-based reasons to hold him in pre-trial detention before the case is presented in court. When a male is accused of inappropriately touching a young boy and has a history of sexual assault and has been charged, we would place the defendant in pre-trial detention.”
“Under Sint Maarten law, the victim and defendant have fewer rights than Dutch law. For example, the victim’s rights to speak in court or the right for a defendant to have a lawyer present, are more limited. (However, The Supreme Court, which operates under Dutch Law, is less restricted. The judge does often consider this as well in court proceedings.)
To improve particular victim and defendant rights under Sint Maarten Law, we have a new (draft) procedural criminal law policy that needs to be reviewed and hopefully adopted by Parliament. The law improves the criminal process in many ways including more rights to victims and access to a lawyer for minors. However, the draft law has not yet been approved by the Parliament.
We should consider looking into best practices when it comes to protecting children and families from crimes such as abuse. For example, in The Netherlands, mayors may impose a ten
-day restraining order for (imminent) domestic violence or (serious suspicion of) child abuse. Depending on the situation, the mayor can extend the temporary restraining order up to a maximum of four weeks. This allows the victim(s) more room and safety to make needed arrangements.”
“So much can be done, but let’s start with:
Currently, our country only focuses on the rigid prison system, and we believe this will solve our crime issues. However, once a person ends up in prison, you have ‘lost’ already – the crime has been committed, and chances of successful rehabilitation into society are slim. There are children on our island that come from broken homes, experience a lack of support and violence in their community, a lack of social services such as appropriate schooling, foster care options, and psychological help. This may contribute to the cause of youth crime.
Social change needs to happen, and yes, punishment is part of it, but the prison does not have enough capacity, nor is it the most effective way to eradicate abuse and other crimes. We need to become a society that cares for its people and our vulnerable groups, such as at-risk youth. Only then will you see a significant change in numbers of children who become victims or offenders.”
The Public Prosecutor’s Office’s primary function is to defend the public against people who commit crimes against citizens. They represent the victims or the public in court. The core tasks of the Public Prosecution Service can be divided into three categories: 1. Lead the investigation of criminal acts, 2. Prosecute criminal acts, 3. Oversee implementation and execution of criminal sentences. Since last year, the Public Prosecutor’s Office also provides victim support.
The Public Prosecutor’s Office has a direct responsibility to the community to prosecute crimes. However, this does not happen overnight. First, together with the Police Department, they decide whether there is sufficient evidence to charge the person with a crime, and this takes time to investigate and collect. The Public Prosecutor’s Office can also choose to prosecute even if the victim decides not to press charges.
Once the casefile is ready, a court date is set. Criminal judges have to fly in from Curaçao, and there is limited space and time for court cases. On average, this process takes a minimum of 4 months. “We would like to see more cases prosecuted. This number is low due to lack of capacity in the police force, forthcoming witnesses, and appropriate rehabilitation facilities or space within the prison,” says Geert Steeghs, the Public Prosecutor for the Youth and Morals Division at the Public Prosecutor’s Office.
The Police Department can be contacted via phone at 1-721-542-2222 ext. 203/204/205, the anonymous tip line # 9300 or people with information can also send a private message via our Facebook Page - Police Force of Sint Maarten – Korps Politie Sint Maarten or website https://www.policesxm.sx. To report suspected child-abuse, people can also contact the Sint Maarten Court of Guardianship: +1721 542-4110.
One of the goals of The Sister Basilia Center is to provide a safe place for children with disabilities and to encourage them to express and develop themselves in a way that suits them. What would especially help to improve their position is greater acceptance of people with disabilities in society, according to Mimi Hodge and Eridania Millers.
Eridania Millers, Group leader Sister Basilia Center
Mimi Hodge, Department head Sister Basilia Center
“We all want to be treated with respect and dignity. For persons with disabilities, this is no different,” states Mimi Hodge, who is the department head at the Sister Basilia Center (SBC). The SBC, founded in August 1984, is a department within the White and Yellow Cross Care Foundation. The department provides a Day Activity Center, Night Care and Guided Living, which caters to those with cognitive disabilities.
The vision of the SBC is that “every individual with a disability should be treated with dignity and equality and should be given the opportunity to develop to their full potential.” To reach this goal, the SBC has a full team with group leaders, doctors, nurses, psychologists, social workers, speech therapists, and physical therapists. Mimi: “The group leaders are integral to the work that we do. They spend the most time with our clients and help keep them on track.”
Eridania Millers is one of those group leaders. She works with some of the centre’s younger clients. “I hope that our community becomes more accepting of people with disabilities. This also means learning how to include them in our society more actively”. Of its 70 clients, the SBC caters to 36 children, with the youngest being four years old.
Eridania: “A safe environment, education, protection from violence, freedom of expression, right to privacy, social inclusion, and the list goes on!”
Eridania: “In my group, I have seven clients between 14 and 21 years old with a range of cognitive impairments, including Autism, Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy and Wiedemann-Steiner Syndrome. For example, our client with cerebral palsy is wheelchair-bound and cannot move physically. However, you can see that she actively participates with her eyes. Others can't speak but have their unique way of communicating. It is all about creating a bond and working on skills together.”
Eridania: “Our Daily Activity Center runs from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. We have a wide range of skills that we teach, all planned according to each individual’s ‘care plan’ and personal goals. We want them to be as independent as possible and teach life skills such as cooking, washing, folding, self-help and also academic, exercise, sensory, and communication skills.”
Mimi: “The SBC is a facility for children with (severe) cognitive impairments. We have a testing process that our clients go through to see if they ‘fit’ in with us. There are also children with disabilities that fit into a special education setting, such as at the
The latter can be difficult due to a lack of policies within schools to help include children with disabilities. There are also children that ‘fall through the cracks’ either because they don’t have legal paperwork, or their guardians don’t take the needed steps to enrol them.”
Sports day Sister Basilia Center
Mimi: “We are the only facility that provides fulltime care for children with (severe) cognitive impairments. They would otherwise not be able to get the proper care they need. It likely means that their family would have a tough time taking care of them, resulting in a highly stressful situation for both the child and parents. This can also result in neglect or other abuse.”
Mimi: “They are more easily manipulated due to their lower IQ or physical impairments. It can be harder for them to figure out what is right and wrong for those around them or themselves. This makes it easier to be preyed on.”
Mimi: “That they need to be treated differently. However, their needs are pretty much the same as other children. They need consistency and love from their parents/guardians. They go to school, have to eat their vegetables, exercise daily, and have consequences if they misbehave.”
Eridania: “Often, people think they cannot perform tasks independently, resulting in people doing everything for them. However, they can learn to do chores, and they can express what they want and what they like – you just have to listen a bit differently at times.”
Eridania: “Children with disabilities have the right, as all other children, to express their opinion and wants. However, some of my clients cannot talk. We work together to figure out how to communicate better. For example, one of my clients uses pictograms (cards with pictures) to communicate.”
Mimi: “Feelings can also be expressed in various ways. When our clients are happy, they might smile at you, hold your hand, or call out to you with a loud sound. You have to get to know the person, which is valid for everyone.”
Eridania: “One of my youngsters did not come to our centre for a long time due to the pandemic. To encourage him to join us again, I did a home visit. I had not realized how complicated his home situation is. His parents are trying their best, but they don't have many resources. I became more aware of how vital the SBC is. We also have a food pantry, workshops, and ambulant worker that does home visits to support families. Our clients look forward to joining us. We provide a safe space, which some clients don’t have.”
Mimi & Eridania: “PATIENCE! And lots of love.”
Mimi: “Some of the laws and policies need to be adapted to be more inclusive of persons with disabilities. This should also make it possible and easier for children who are cognitively able but have physical impairments to go to regular school. At the moment, due to conflicting school policies, this can be difficult.”
Eridania: “Awareness campaigns to increase the knowledge of the public about people living with disabilities. There should also be more financial support for those that have (or take care of a person with) a disability.”
Mimi: “General acceptance of our clients in the community. At the moment, we struggle with finding employers willing to employ our clients. Some of our clients can work and want to be productive members of our community.”
Eridania: “It would also be nice to see more places that are wheelchair friendly and people being more inclusive of those with disabilities by considering them in public events. A smile and empathy are nice, but active participation with and the inclusion of our clients is what they really need.”
Mimi: “People come in all different colours, shapes and sizes. We all should have equal rights. Persons with disabilities did not ask to be in the position they are in. They deserve respect and to be given the same opportunities as others in our society. As a community, and with your help, we can help make this happen!”
In our profiles, we portray governmental organisations that play a role in youth related matters
The Government, in its entirety, has an integrated approach to the development of youth. Each Ministry within the Government of Sint Maarten has its role to play in order to aid the advancement of youth laws, policies, and procedures. The Department of Youth is a policy department that falls within the Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport (MECYS), and is tasked with the responsibility to develop policy, programs and offer institutional strengthening that will benefit children and youth from 0 to 24 years.
Staffed by a team of five motivated professionals, three of whom are policy workers, they are together responsible for ensuring the development of policies, laws, regulations, research, and appraisals of youth. They advise the Government on the allocation of resources based on research, progress reports, and forecasts. They prepare, implement and manage the national laws and regulations regarding youth on Sint Maarten, and monitor compliance with these laws and regulations with special attention given to young people who are ‘vulnerable’. Lastly, they enforce supervision of compliance with the international conventions, such as UNESCO conventions and the International Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).
The department has managed to accomplish the internal drafting of key policies that include: The National Early Childhood and Development Policy, Integrated Youth Policy, Safety Nets Policy and Protocol for Reporting Child Abuse Policy. The department provides subsidies to several youth stakeholders who organize and execute the programs and projects that are associated with these policies. It also offers these stakeholders capacity strengthening training sessions and workshops in areas of youth development to enhance the quality of youth work.
The department organizes and executes projects, such as the Rights of the Child Awareness Campaign, which is geared towards making both children and adults aware of children’s rights and responsibilities as well as the popular annual Business Outreach & Placement Program (BOPP), a work experience program that caters to students between the ages of 16 and 24 years. This program has been executed by the department for the past 21 years.
After the devastation of hurricane Irma in 2017, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth & Sport established the Safety and Emergency Management Committee (SEMC) in 2018 to manage disaster related matters for all youth stakeholders. The Department of Youth was instrumental in helping to set the safety guidelines for reopening schools, day care centres and the youth and sport organizations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Consequently, as result of this endeavour, the SEMC participated in the Caribbean School Safety Conference mid-March, 2021.
At the Kingdom and international level, the Department of Youth has been a member of the Kingdom Taskforce for Children’s Rights since 2014 and hosted the fourth annual Kingdom Conference on Sint Maarten in 2019. Through an established agreement among the Kingdom partners, the Department of Youth continues to work closely to improve Children’s Rights on the island through close working relationships with international organisations, such as UNESCO and UNICEF Netherlands.
Since the devastation of hurricane Irma in 2017, the Department of Youth has continued to prioritize work related to the Trust Fund activities for four years to realize its goals in improving the lives and social position of the children and youth on the island.
The Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth & Sport’s vision is to ‘provide strategic leadership in the process of preparing an individual to become an independent, thinking, productive, wholesome, useful and valued member of society’. Its mission is ‘to carry out the vision and ensure the implementation of effective and efficient systems, which promote and secure equal opportunities and access to quality education, recreation, social, cultural and physical development for all the people of Sint Maarten’. The Department of Youth can be contacted for any questions by calling telephone 721- 5422709 ext. 2754 or 2756 or by sending an email to email@example.com or by following us on Facebook: SXM Youth Affairs.
The Kingdom Taskforce was established in 2014 with the goal to strengthen the cooperation and promote equality in the standard of children’s rights among the Kingdom Partners. The Kingdom Taskforce for Children’s Rights is comprised of representatives from Aruba, Curaçao, the BES islands, Sint Maarten and the Netherlands.
The need for the Kingdom Taskforce was identified in 2014 at the Kingdom Conference, which was held on Aruba. The attending political authorities endorsed the premise that each child in the Kingdom should be entitled to a good life, as stated in the Convention for the Rights of the Child. The Kingdom Taskforce partners agreed that this body would function as an effective mechanism to guarantee that a proper standard of living, for all children in the Kingdom, is met across the board.
As a result, the Taskforce partners have dedicated their efforts to develop a multi-annual action plan for their respective islands. These islands subsequently report on the progress and outcome of their activities and share best practices during their monthly virtual meetings and more extensively during the annual Kingdom Conference for Children’s Rights that caters to professionals in youth work.
In 2018, the Taskforce drafted a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to strengthen seven areas of cooperation and compliance on children’s rights among its partners. The seven key areas of cooperation addressed in the MoU are: positive parenting, prevention of child abuse, development of ‘safety nets’, youth participation, professional assistance and support of children and families, with special attention for vulnerable children. This MoU was signed by all Ministers within the Kingdom responsible for the Youth portfolio. For Sint Maarten, the MoU was signed by the former Minister of Education, Culture, Youth & Sport, the honourable Wycliffe Smith.
Despite the challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Kingdom Taskforce remains optimistic about hosting its annual conference later this year. Details on how the Taskforce intends to proceed with the conference are currently being worked out and will be based on the evaluation of the first digital conference held in 2020, which was necessary due to Covid-19 travel restrictions.
The topics discussed during the conference varies, and are generally related to the annual theme chosen by the Taskforce. In 2020, the emphasis was placed on Child Protection. Due to the unanticipated impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the lives of children globally, special attention was given to the impact on children in Caribbean households during the pandemic, as well as an evaluation of 25 years of Children’s Rights and an assessment of where we now stand.
While this conference was not accessible to the general public, it was informative, interactive and inspiring through its presentations and workshops for youth professionals.
As a teacher, community worker or childcare worker you may suspect that a child is having difficulties at home. For instance, you may see signs that give you an uneasy feeling that something is not right, or a child may confide in you about their experiences at home. Here are eight tips to help you get a clearer picture through a conversation.
Children are masters at sensing if you mean what you say or do. This is particularly true of children who are forced to keep their guard up at home; these children have a built-in radar for detecting when someone is putting up a facade.
Being genuine means being yourself in relation to the child. Don’t pretend to be something you are not. This doesn’t mean showing every emotion you feel in relation to the child’s story. What it does mean is that you remain aware of your emotions, rather than ignoring or suppressing them. If you are shocked by something the child says, it is better to say you are shocked than hide your emotion at all costs. It is important that you then refocus your attention on the child. This is, after all, not about your own feelings.
A conversation with your pupil shouldn’t be drawn out, even if the child doesn’t want to talk. You cannot compel a child to confide in you. However difficult it may be, an adult should always be respectful and accept a child’s right to self-determination and a simple ‘no’ from a child.
A professional attitude requires a genuine interest. You must create a feeling of safety and have the ability to be a good ‘receiver’. In other words, you must notice the child’s feelings and relate to them. It also means that you are aware of the various stages of child development and can make the link to them. Making a connection with a child means giving a child the space to tell their story. If you adopt an unassuming manner, a child will feel more comfortable talking to you.
Be aware of the different development stages of children. It’s better to talk to a pre-schooler whilst playing. Children are less focused on language than adults, they communicate instead with their whole being. Be aware of this.
Active listening means continually considering what the child actually wants to say. Therefore, listen to the child’s verbal as well as non-verbal messages. Above all, read ‘between the lines’. Specifically, you can interpret a lot from intonation, hesitations and silences.
Through active listening, a child’s situation may become clear, and you get a better understanding of the child’s emotions. Try to summarize the child’s feelings in your own words. You don’t just get more information this way, but the child also feels that they are being taken seriously. More importantly, you are able to check that you have understood the child and interpreted their feelings correctly. Active listening is carried out by asking questions such as, “You mean that; you’re trying to make it clear that; you feel….; Is that correct; you’d prefer that….?”
Acceptance means accepting the child as they are. That is not to say that you have to agree with the child’s thinking or emotions. Acceptance is listening without judging. Fantasy and fact are often interchangeable for children. For a child their story is logical because they know where fantasy begins, and they assume you do too. This is why it’s important not to bring the credibility of the child into question. For one thing, it’s not your role to determine if the child is telling the truth. Take whatever your pupil tells you seriously. In addition, children sometimes need an alternative version to be able to tell their own story.
Young children, in particular, are prone to speak in metaphors, even though they are clearly talking about their own situation. They speak, for example, about mean dragons and poor princesses or whatever fits with their experiences at the time. If you express a lack of understanding, they won’t feel they want to tell you more. Acceptance means moving at the child’s own pace. If a child doesn’t want to tell you anything, then that is fine as well.
Children are loyal to their parents; that also applies for abused children. That’s why it is important not to criticize the parents or speak negativity in other ways about them. The child may denounce their parents, but you may not. Doing so intensifies the loyalty conflict that a child already faces, and the child may be inclined to protect their parents.
Realize that when a child speaks of their ‘nasty’ or ‘angry’ papa or mama, it doesn’t mean the child no longer wants to live at home. The pupil is saying that they hate the behaviour of their father or mother and want it to stop. Respect that a child is loyal to their parent. You can do this by asking to hear the positive things about the parents.
Follow these tips to guide you:
Never promise secrecy to a child. If a pupil asks you not to share their story with anyone else, make it clear that you cannot promise that. Explain that you need to involve other people to get help.
You could say, ‘If I keep what you tell me secret, then we share that secret, and I can’t get help for you. I need others to be able to help you, but I promise I won’t do anything without first telling you. I will always tell you what I am going to do. Ok?’. Children understand if you say, ‘If I don’t know what to do, is it okay if I talk to someone else who knows lots about children?’
After learning in the classroom about children’s rights, students were asked to share their favourite rights via drawings and on camera. In the finale of the second edition of the UNICEF Children’s Rights Film Festival Caribbean 2020, all the films were presented.
“I chose the right to be protected, because children like me should be protected from bullies and violence,” shares 11-year-old Kylie. Kylie is one of the 11 Children on Sint Maarten who participated in the UNICEF Children’s Rights Film Festival Caribbean Finale in 2020.
The project provided a creative platform for children to learn about their rights and get involved with teaching others about children’s rights. First, the participating students on Sint Maarten, ages 9 to 12, learned about children’s rights in a classroom setting. After a group discussion, they were asked to make a drawing depicting their favourite right. Once finished, one by one, they presented their drawings on camera and shared the thoughts behind their drawings. The result: a very cool video.
Bringing attention to children’s rights is important: not every child on the islands knows what his or her rights are. Only when children know their rights will they be able to stand up for them.
Other Dutch Caribbean islands, Bonaire, Curaçao, Aruba, Saba, and Sint Eustatius, participated as well, each making their own videos. On November 21st, the finale of the second edition of the UNICEF Children’s Rights Film Festival Caribbean 2020 took place. Bonaire was the host island. However, due to the Coronavirus pandemic, it was decided that the children from the other participating islands would not be physically present on Bonaire. As an alternative, a live online premiere was organized. The children and their parents were invited to a festive local finale at which they could easily view and participate in the live online premiere with the other islands. On Sint Maarten, they were treated to a red carpet event full of fun costumes, popcorn, and other surprises.
Kylie, age 11, chose the right to be protected because “children like me should be protected from bullies and violence.” In her drawing you see a child being bullied (by fingers that are pointing at him), and God who is represented by a large finger at the top telling all the bullies to stop.
As the virtual finale program continued, the suspense among the children watching intensified as they wondered who the winner, chosen by the jury, would be. At last, Nina den Heyer, a commissioner on Bonaire, made the announcement. The winner of the Best Children’s Rights film was the film from the Emmanuel School in Curaçao. The film touches upon the importance of family for children and especially how important it is for children to be in contact with both of their parents.
Sint Maarten also won an award. The award for the best children’s rights drawing went to Kylie, who depicted and argued her chosen right in a creative and personal way.
Kylie receiving her award for ‘the best children’s rights drawing’. The evening was hosted by Mareeka Dookie, the project manager, and popular radio host Kevin ‘Suppa Kid’ Patrona.
11-year-old Briana shared that she drew the right “for all children to be happy” based on children’s right #6: all children and young people have the right to survive and the right to develop. Her advice: If you know a child that is not happy, you can give them a compliment and be nice OR if they don’t have money, share with them what you have!”
12-year-old Carlos expressed his disappointment when people, especially adults around him, do not listen to him. Through his drawing and video, he encourages people to listen more to the opinions of children. Carlos based his drawing on children’s right #12: to have opinions and for these opinions to be heard and taken seriously.
Energetic Jiaming, age 10, showcased his personality on the Sint Maarten video. He based his drawing on children’s right #24: good quality health care, clean water, and good food, “because it is important to eat healthy, drink healthy and be healthy!”
Watch the finale and all films made on the islands (first and second editions) on the CRFF YouTube page
Watch the video of participating students on Sint Maarten, presenting their drawings on camera and sharing their thoughts
Why this magazine?
In May 2019, UNICEF The Netherlands and Augeo Foundation together did an analysis on child abuse and neglect on Sint Maarten. Thirty professionals working in the field of Child Protection were interviewed. Based on the outcome of the dialogues with these professionals, UNICEF The Netherlands, Augeo Foundation and the Child Protection Working Group decided to publish a magazine to share knowledge, experiences and best practices among professionals working with children and the general public. This magazine is produced in collaboration with the Government of Sint Maarten, financed by the Government of The Netherlands, through the Sint Maarten Trust Fund, as part of the Child Resilience and Protection Project (CRPP).
Augeo Foundation believes that children should grow up safely and with love. That is why we work together with professionals, policymakers and volunteers to tackle child abuse and domestic violence as quickly and effectively as possible. If more people see what they can do for a child, we can make a difference for a child’s future. With online training, an online magazine and experiences from the Youth Taskforce we empower professionals. We organize support for children and together with municipalities, we conduct research into tackling child abuse in The Netherlands. Augeo Foundation is a non-profit foundation based in The Netherlands that is funded by donations from family assets. We use this independent position to actively implement pioneering improvements and address bottlenecks.
UNICEF The Netherlands supports the government of Sint Maarten in the aspiration to improve the recognition and reporting of child abuse and neglect (CAN), as hurricanes Irma and Maria (2017) exacerbated the pre-existing challenges. UNICEF The Netherlands’ recovery programme in Sint Maarten in 2019 is funded by The Netherlands Red Cross. On the issue of CAN, UNICEF The Netherlands engages in a partnership with Augeo Foundation. Augeo Foundation offers technical support. UNICEF advocates for the protection of children's rights, everywhere. We do whatever it takes to help children survive, thrive and fulfill their potential. Before, during and after humanitarian emergencies, UNICEF is on the ground, bringing lifesaving help and hope to children and families. We provide technical assistance to governments, mobilise political will and resources, and work with partners, including the private sector to achieve sustainable results for children. And we never give up.
Editorial office: Soraya Agard-Lake, Kimberly Brown, Laura Bijnsdorp, Rose Fleming, Olga Mussington-Service, Marieke Roelfsema, Andrea Smits
Production editor: Annette Wiesman
Correction: Amanda van Mulligen
Photography: Laura Bijnsdorp, iStock, UNICEF The Netherlands
Design and realisation: NR Grafisch Ontwerp
Publisher: Augeo Foundation