Every child deserves love and understanding, and boundless opportunities for education, health care and safety and security.
Sadly as the world marks Universal Children’s Day today millions of children worldwide and many thousands here at home do not have access to these basic needs that are recognised in the Declaration of the Rights of the Child and The Convention on the Rights of the child.
Here in Trinidad and Tobago today we have witnessed children being murdered on the streets while others have died because an uncaring regime failed to approve funding for life-saving health care. Even worse, due to political expediency a fully equipped modern Children’s Hospital remains unopened while children are denied access to the services the hospital is designed to provide.
The PP administration that I had the privilege to lead was a child-friendly one that recognised the rights of the child and our policies were geared to protect children and ensure their health and wellbeing.
The Children’s Life Fund, which was the first act of the PP administration in 2010, provided money for medical procedures abroad that were unavailable at home. Through this charitable institution supported by contributions from our PP MPs, scores of children are today alive and well who would have died without this critical lifeline.
We established the Children’s Authority of Trinidad and Tobago to care for and protect our children, especially those at risk or who were victims of abuse or neglect. The Authority’s mission is to help children realise their full potential.
Other initiatives of our administration included a Child Protection Task Force and measures to help at-risk youth. Our focus on education ensured that we reached and passed the UN Millennium goal of universal early childhood education; our government provided financial support for education from that level to tertiary and we provided our children with laptops and other equipment to prepare them for the new technological world of the 21st century. Today, our children no longer have many of these benefits.
At a social level, single mothers struggling to survive, received special grants to help them provide necessary supplies to care for their infants to give them a fighting chance of survival in their first year. That too is gone as is a social safety net for poor and underprivileged families.
Trinidad and Tobago is a signatory to all the UN conventions on caring for children and ensuring that no child is deprived of basic needs and rights. It is therefore not a matter of political choice to provide the best for children; it is an international obligation that the present regime is failing to honour.
Universal Children’s Day is meant to promote international togetherness, awareness among children worldwide, and improving children’s welfare.
It means, therefore that all of us – parents, teachers, health care professionals, civil society, religious and community elders, corporations, the media, government leaders as well as young people and children themselves – have important roles in protecting the rights of the child.
We all have a responsibility to advocate, promote and celebrate children’s rights to build a better future for our children and to ensure that the world they inherit will be better than the one we inhabit today. We constitute the village that must work together to raise every child.
I endorse the view of a former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, who said there is no trust more sacred than the one the world holds with children. He added, “There is no duty more important than ensuring that their rights are respected, that their welfare is protected, that their lives are free from fear and want and that they can grow up in peace.”
That is the mission to which I remain dedicated and I call on all my fellow citizens to commit to this undertaking on behalf of our children. Let us treat every child as our own and be on guard to nourish, educate and protect every child.