EDITORIAL: This challenging children problem for Jamaica govt
VARIOUS MEMBER STATES of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) face social, economic and political challenges at this time. It could, however, be quite disturbing to learn that Jamaica is not alone in having the very serious problem of thousands of its children living without birth certificates and consequently being kept out of the school.
About a quarter million such children in this predicament are in a population of approximately 2.8 million, according to a child protection specialist with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Janet Cupidon Quallo.
Perhaps even more disturbing, though not raised in the observation attributed to the UNICEF specialist, is the alert provided back in 2006 in a different assessment by the UN agency.
The assessment had revealed that despite encouraging strides made by Jamaica to access health, nutrition, education and social welfare, consistent with the Millennium Development Goals, about 977 000 of its children under the age of 18 (then 37 per cent of the population) could be excluded from such benefits.
These children were then categorized among the poorest, most vulnerable and most abused. Worse, according to that frame of reference in UNICEF’s 2006 study, these children’s “rights to birth registration, safe and protective environments, family care and love, quality education, life skills and opportunity to participate are denied or violated. . . .”
Research further disclosed that in 2004 an overview of multifaceted exclusion – from birth to adulthood – had pointed to the very unpleasant reality of “no official existence” for ten per cent of Jamaica’s children under the age of one!
What official explanation is there to be offered by successive governments in Kingston for the recent sad observation by Quallo?
She said that while “some” of the estimated 250 000 Jamaican children without birth certificates were registered, they remained “without birth certificates”, and that in spite of claims by the Ministry of Education, “they are being kept out of school . . . they are at home and essentially have no identity . . . .”
What a contrast to the admirable initiative pursued by the country’s Ministry of Education when it opted to be involved in a unique partnership effort in 2011 with UNESCO for the launch of a programme to assess literacy levels among Jamaicans to better define the literacy situation in the country.
In the circumstances of the recent contention by the UNICEF specialist familiar with the prevailing situation in Jamaica, it seems reasonable to assume that the Jamaica government would consider it appropriate to come forward with updated information on the number of children living without birth certificates and, relatedly, what percentage of them continue to suffer, as a consequence, non-admission to schools.