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I set out below the Rights of the Child as proposed in the Principles of Fairness draft constitution: “29. (1) Subject to subsection (3), every child, being a

person under the age of eighteen years, has the right—

(a) to a name and nationality from birth;

(b) to parental care or family care, or, when removed by the State from that environment, to appropriate alternative care;

(c) to basic nutrition, shelter, basic health care services and social services;

(d) to be protected from maltreatment, neglect, sexual abuse or any other form of abuse or degradation;

(e) to be protected from exploitative labour practices;

(f) not to be required or permitted to perform work or provide services that—

(i) are inappropriate for a person of that child’s age; or

(ii) place at risk the child’s wellbeing, education, physical or mental health or spiritual, moral or social development;

(g) not to be detained except as a measure of last resort, in which case, in addition to the rights a child enjoys in relation to freedom and security of the person and in relation to a person being accused, arrested, or detained, the child may be detained only for the shortest appropriate period of time, and has the right to be—

(i) kept separately from detained persons who are over the age of 18 years; and

(ii) treated in a manner, and kept in conditions, that take account of the child’s age;

(h) to have an attorney-at-law assigned to the child by the State, and at the expense of the State, in civil proceedings affecting the child, if substantial injustice would otherwise result;

(i) not to be used directly or indirectly in any form of armed conflict, and to be protected in time of such conflict; and

(j) to be protected from any form of sexual trade for the purpose of pornography or any other dehumanising or illicit purpose.

(2) A child’s best interests are of paramount importance in every matter concerning the child.

(3) The State shall take reasonable measures, within its available resources, to achieve the progressive realisation of these rights, by setting out clearly the criteria for eligibility.”

I have quoted this in detail since neither our present Constitution nor the Working Document on constitutional reform speak to the rights of the child. It is my view that this lack of attention to the rights of the child is a reflection of the uncaring attitude to children of many in our society our leaders not excepted. How else can one explain the instances of child abuse on the one hand and the long delay in bringing the legislation dealing with children to Parliament on the other? Any amended or new constitution must not lack a section on the Rights of the Child. This important aspect of our social well being must not be left solely to laws enacted by Parliament but must be enshrined in our constitution.

In addition to our own responsibility for our children this country has ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and has certain obligations under that convention. An article in a Unicief website states:

“The Convention on the Rights of the Child is the first legally binding international instrument to incorporate the full range of human rights—civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights. In 1989, world leaders decided that children needed a special convention just for them because people under 18 years old often need special care and protection that adults do not. The leaders also wanted to make sure that the world recognised that children have human rights too.”

In this country I fear that we do not consider that children have human rights and we often assume that parents have absolute rights over their children. This is exemplified by the fact that (a) the present Constitution and the Working Document recognise only the rights of the parent or guardian with respect to education of the child (as indicated in my last article) and (b) the horrible and frequent tales of brutality by parents or guardians. This is not to belittle all the acts of kindness and caring performed by many in our society. But often this very caring becomes necessary because of the actions or neglect of other adults!

With respect to considerations in the preceding paragraph Article 5 of the UN convention on the Rights of the Child is relevant. In it the responsibilities, rights and duties of parents, guardians or, where applicable, the members of the extended family or community are recognised.

Also relevant to the discussion on the Rights of the Child, particularly with respect to education, is Article 1 of the Convention which states:

“For the purposes of the present Convention, a child means every human being below the age of 18 years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier.” In a previous article on dealing with the violence in our society I proposed that the school leaving be raised to 18—it is now 12!

Extracted From: Trinidad Express

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