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Communique Issued at the Conclusion of the Twelfth Special Meeting of the Council for Human and Social Development (COHSOD) of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Georgetown, GUYANA, 17-19 March 2008

Posted in: Communiques | 19 March 2008 | Release Ref #: 70/2008 | 1204

    (CARICOM Secretariat, Turkeyen, Greater Georgetown, Guyana)The Twelfth Special Meeting of the Council for Human and Social Development (COHSOD) of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), which focussed on Children, was convened at the Guyana International Conference Centre, Turkeyen, Greater Georgetown, Guyana on 17 -19 March, 2008 under the theme, Building a Region Fit for Children.

    In attendance were:

    The Hon. Peter Martinez, Minister of Human Development and Social Transformation, Belize, who chaired the Meeting; Hon. Bertrand Joseph, Minister of Education, Sports and Youth Affairs, Antigua and Barbuda; Hon. Loreen Bannis-Roberts, Minister of Community Development, Culture, Gender Affairs and Information, Dominica; Hon. Clement Rohee, Minister of Home Affairs, Guyana, Hon. Desrey Fox, Minister in the Ministry of Education, Guyana; Hon. Michael Browne, Minister of Social Development, St. Vincent and the Grenadines; Hon. Edwin Wolf, Minister of Education and Community Development, Suriname; Hon. Dr. Amery Brown, Minister of Social Development, Trinidad and Tobago; Hon. Lillian Boyce, Minister of Health and Human Services, Turks and Caicos Islands; and their delegations.

    Delegations from The Bahamas, Barbados, Jamaica and St. Kitts and Nevis also attended the Meeting. Representatives from institutions and organizations including the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), the University of Guyana (UG), the University of the West Indies (UWI), the Caribbean Centre for Development Administration (CARICAD), the Caribbean Food and Nutrition Institute (CFNI), the Commonwealth Youth Programme (CYP), the Organisation of American States (OAS), the Pan American Health Organisation/World Health Organisation (PAHO/WHO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), also contributed to the deliberations.


    The Opening Ceremony was addressed by Professor Nigel Harris Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies. He challenged the Caribbean Community to ensure greater collaboration with regional and international institutions in order to build a region fit for children and pointed to the need to create an enabling environment based on sound philosophical and moral principles which would create a regional community that placed supreme value on guaranteeing human rights and freedom. Professor Harris expressed the hope that following the deliberations of the Council, CARICOM Member States would be “moved to give of their best for the nation’s children.”

    Secretary General of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) His Excellency Edwin Carrington welcomed delegates from Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Barbados and Trinidad who were attending their first COHSOD. He underscored the strategic importance of the Council’s aim to harmonise legal Frameworks for children and for standards for early childhood development services, especially within the context of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSM) asserting that the Single Market would be stultified if child rights were denied. Commending the COHSOD for its leadership in critical areas of Human and Social Development, the Secretary General noted that one of the issues that would engage the attention of the COHSOD over the next two days would be that of strategic programming for children affected by natural disasters and emergencies and charged the COHSOD to ensure that the relevant stakeholders were engaged in its planning and that the necessary capacity building was provided to ensure their optimal contribution. Secretary General Carrington said that initiatives such as the Regional Early Childhood Development Working Group on issues affecting children; the Task Force on Child Rights and Child Protection and the Working Group on Health and Family Life Education, could not have been successful without close collaboration with other development partners and regional institutions. He recorded the Secretariat’s appreciation for the important role which those partners continued to play in the development of the Region, and particularly acknowledged United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) for the significant technical and financial support provided for the COHSOD and the United Nations Development Fund (UNDP) for its support to the process of drafting of Contingent Rights Protocol.

    The Hon Clement Rohee, Minister of Home Affairs, Guyana in welcoming the delegates noted that the Community had made advances in several critical areas of child welfare and development and pledged his country’s support for the initiatives that would be developed at the COHSOD for the greater protection of children.

    Chair of COHSOD, the Hon. Peter Martinez, Minister of Human Development and Social Transformation, Belize in his remarks challenged the meeting to ensure that it achieved clarity and consensus on the work to be done on behalf of the Region’s children. The Meeting received a statement on behalf of H.E. Ronald Runaldo Venetiaan, President of Suriname, delivered by his Minister of Education and Human Development. President Venetiaan who has lead responsibility for Culture, Gender, Youth and Sport, in the Quasi Cabinet of the Conference of Heads of Government expressed concerns that despite the many plans, actions and efforts, children were still falling victim to destructive and detrimental influences. He charged the meeting to make an honest evaluation of its actions in meeting its obligations to the Region’s children.

    Also addressing the meeting was Mr. Nils Kastberg, Regional Director, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). He stated that the pace at which the Region was progressing on child welfare and development was unacceptable and called for careful analysis of the goals set by the Community as well as active commitment to achieving those goals.

    A special statement from children of the Region was read at the Opening Ceremony, calling for empowerment to fulfil their potential.

    A special feature of the Meeting was the participation of Child Journalists who brought their perspectives on issues affecting them to bear on the deliberations of the Meeting.

    The COHSOD observed a minute of silence for the less fortunate children and those who had died as a result of violence and other debilitating factors in the Region.


    Programming for Children Affected by Emergencies and Climate Change

    The COHSOD reviewed specific issues of relevance to children’s development including access to water, nutrition, food and security, sanitation, health and safety and acknowledged the importance of designing child-centred interventions as part of the re-programming process for children in the context of emergencies. The Meeting noted that in the next decade it is predicted that the Caribbean would be experiencing an increase in the intensity of hurricanes; severe water crises; frequent outbreaks of several air and water borne diseases, such as an increase in the transmission of dengue fever as a consequence of the accelerating effects of climate change.

    Against this background, the COHSOD recommended that shelters be designed with children’s needs in mind and must provide not only a place of safety and refuge , but a source of structured activity and stimulation and care for children.

    The COHSOD also recommended that children be educated early about the realities of natural hazards and climate change; that the public, particularly parents be educated on the needs of children in emergencies, and that the school curriculum, including early childhood programmes, address the issue of the impact of climate change and disasters on the Caribbean.


    The Council received the presentation on establishing a Comprehensive Child Legislative Framework and Efficient Implementing Mechanisms for Greater Protection. It recommended that countries accelerate the implementation of legislative reform in specific areas relating to: children without adequate care and protection, particularly those in foster care and children affected by migration, enforcement of legislation relating to child labour, exploitation and trafficking and justice for children and reforms related to strengthening birth registration systems .


    Childhood Obesity, a Weighty Problem in the Caribbean

    The COHSOD received and discussed the presentation on Childhood Obesity, from the Caribbean Food and Nutrition Institute (CFNI) and noted the critical role that schools, community and parents should play in helping to prevent childhood obesity. This includes placing emphasis on nutrition, healthy school meals, increased physical

    School Feeding Programmes

    The COHSOD agreed that school feeding programmes formed an integral part of a country’s contribution to supplying children with safe and proper nutrition and in this regard highlighted the Schools Nutritional Programme in Trinidad and Tobago implemented through the National Schools Dietary Services Limited (NSDSL) as a model and urged Member States to introduce similar programmes for schools in their respective countries.

    Health Promoting Schools

    Another useful model that was recommended was the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) initiative on health promoting schools which is designed to strengthen health promotion and health education and the capacity of Member States to manage these schools through the participation of key actors and formulation and implementation of healthy public policies in the school environment.

    Expanding Access to Early Childhood Services

    The Meeting also acknowledged the critical need for quality assurance in Early Childhood services and called for Government leadership and oversight to private sector driven services especially in areas such as policy, regulatory framework; health and safety standards, curricular interventions and teacher training. The COHSOD committed to the formulation of Comprehensive Early Children Development policies; the development of National Regulatory Frameworks and National Minimum Standards regimes for Early Childhood Care and Development.

    The Council further considered and approved a number of priorities for the ensuing five years. These priorities include: the adoption of formal early childhood polices in all countries across the region by the end of 2009; increasing access to early childhood services in all countries for the birth to two age group and 100% for the three to five age group by 2013; the lowering of the age of universal/compulsory education across the region to at least four years, to ensure that all children receive at least one year of formal early childhood exposure, prior to entry into primary school; developing regional strategies to strengthen the capacity of countries to establish special mechanisms for increasing access of children in vulnerable and poor populations; establishing mechanisms where necessary to provide training and certification and authorising the relevant regional institutions to initiate dialogue with relevant international organisations with a view to developing a regional project aimed at financing improved access to early childhood education across the region. Such a project should be operational by the start of 2010.

    Adolescent Development

    The COHSOD endorsed the recommendations for using the Life-cycle Approach and building the protective factors for adolescents; and recommended that Member States adopt key strategies emerging from the UNICEF approach to address adolescent development at the national and regional levels.


    Securing Children’s Right to Identity and Dignity as the Foundation of Enjoyment for all Rights

    The COHSOD discussed the main challenges to children’s rights to identity, dignity and protection from exploitation, and acknowledged the importance of re-energizing the regional and national drives in order to achieve universal birth registration in the Caribbean. Child’s right to a nationality and the importance of birth registration for child protection were essential aspects of child protection in the context of increasing mobility in the CSME and migration, generally.

    The COHSOD endorsed a slate of recommendations including the development of harmonised mandatory birth registration and promotion of inter-sectoral collaboration in the development and implementation of programmes for children. The Council also agreed to support the harmonisation of child protection legislation and to support in principle, the concept of regional child advocates as well as the development of public advocacy strategies in Member States.

    Violence against Caribbean Children

    The COHSOD agreed to support the development and implementation of coordinated systems for prevention and early intervention for families and gave support to violence and crime prevention programmes at the national and regional levels. The Meeting urged Member States to increase economic and social safety nets for families; implement effective school programmes to curtail violence and improve access and quality of support services to victims of violence. The meeting also agreed to bring these matters to the attention of the Council for National Security and Law Enforcement and to the Summit of Heads of Government on Crime and Security to be held in Port of Spain Trinidad and Tobago on 5 April, 2008


    The COHSOD received a presentation on the social and educational realities affecting the development and participation of children which outlined the characteristics of childhood in the Caribbean; the trends in survival, development, protection and participation; and protective environments for Caribbean children

    The COHSOD urged Member States to foster research on issues affecting children’s development; to consider the impact of religious and cultural practices on the development of the Region’s children and also to consider the impact of migration on the stateless child and the effects on birth registration.

    The Meeting further agreed to the strengthening of Health and Family Life Education in schools and to the convening of national and regional consultations with a view to sharing best practices. The Council also agreed to develop programmes to facilitate the transition of children from pre-primary to primary and recognised the importance of teaching parenting skills to young men and women before they become parents.


    The COHSOD viewed and applauded a presentation by child journalists. The presentation included one minute videos produced by children on issues ranging from peer pressure, sexuality, HIV and AIDS, early marriages, domestic abuse, child abuse, and a fifteen-minute televised Special Report on the COHSOD.


    The COHSOD approved a proposal for a project to establish a CARICOM Kids Website that would create a virtual knowledge network for children of the Community and enhance the understanding of regional integration and engender a sense of Caribbean identity among children 5-14 years old.


    The COHSOD agreed in principle to the recommendation that a CARICOM Envoy for children be appointed and that “Champions for Children” be identified at the national level. The Meeting urged Member States to submit nominees of suitable persons, in accordance with stipulated criteria for selection, for the Envoy for Children who would be recommended through COHSOD to the Conference of Heads of Government in July.


    In emphasising the importance of child care and development and considering the need to create a nurturing environment in which children can be empowered and realize their potential the Conference agreed to issue a Declaration, Buliding a Region Fit for Children which is attached below.


    The COHSOD accepted with appreciation the offer of Suriname to host its Seventeenth Meeting later in 2008.

    APPRECIATION Ministers of Government expressed their appreciation to the Government and people of the Republic of Guyana for the excellent arrangements put in place and the warm hospitality extended to Delegates. They also recorded their gratitude for the support and participation of the regional and international partners and the Secretary-General and Staff of the CARICOM Secretariat for the arrangements and effort made which had ensured the success of the Meeting.

    Georgetown, Guyana
    19 March 2007

    The Georgetown Declaration on Building a Region Fit for Children For the survival, development, protection dignity, and participation of Children within the Caribbean Community

    We the Ministers of the Caribbean Community with responsibility for Children together with representatives of regional and international development organizations and regional educational institutions participating in the Twelfth Special Meeting of the Council for Human and Social Development (COHSOD) on Children at the Guyana International Conference Centre, Turkeyen, 17th – 19th March, 2008;

    Aiming to ensure the right to survival, development, protection, dignity and participation of Children within the Caribbean Community;

    Affirming the commitment of the Caribbean Community to the realization of the rights of all Children as enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child which defines a Child as every human being below the age of eighteen;

    Reaffirming our commitment to investing in Children as both a national and a regional development priority;

    Noting with grave concern the adverse effects on Children of natural disasters, climate change, violence, HIV and AIDS, child abuse and exploitation, family separation and migration, malnutrition, including obesity and other lifestyle related diseases;

    Recognising that optimizing the development of Children from early childhood to adolescence, through health care, early stimulation, development monitoring, parenting and community support, quality education, and safe and protective environments is fundamental to determining the well being and life chances of our Children.

    Emphasising the importance of the family, spiritual and intellectual development, cultural identity and diversity, physical activity and psychosocial well-being to the holistic development of our Children

    Commit to the following actions aimed at improving the well being of Children in the Caribbean Community through:

    • The establishment of mechanisms to improve the quality of, and increase access to inclusive early childhood care, education and development services and in particular, for vulnerable and marginalized Children
    • The strengthening of protective environments in homes, schools and communities
    • The reforming of legislation and protection systems for Children
    • The extension of social protection and welfare programmes to ensure equity of opportunity and to enhance life chances to guarantee holistic development
    • The improvement of research, disaggregated data collection and monitoring systems to inform policy and interventions
    • The implementation of Health and Family Life Education for Children in and out of school
    • The development and delivery of parenting education programmes to build capacity to deliver quality care
    • The completion and adoption of the Caribbean Cooperation in Health III with a particular focus on continued reduction of child and infant mortality nutrition-related non-communicable diseases and increased physical activity in and out of school
    • The consideration of children and their particular needs in the revision of the Caribbean Regional Strategic Framework for HIV and AIDS (CRSF)
    • The retention of Children and in education, enabling both boys and girls to complete their schooling to the best of their ability
    • The active engagement of Children in understanding and contributing to the development of their communities, including through the use of various media and Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs)
    • Actions geared to reducing the digital divide in order to promote equitable development of our Children
    • Strengthening the Children’s programme and Children’s participation in CARIFESTA
    • Development and implementation of national policies that take Children into consideration and that adequate resources are made available for its implementation

    Also commit to:

    • Raising awareness of the importance of acting now to address the causes and consequences of climate change;
    • Advocating to effect the policy, technical, attitudinal and behavioural changes needed to ensure the survival and development of the next generation in a world affected by climate change;
    • Strategic planning in disaster preparedness and management for and with Children
    • Educating our Children of all age groups on the dangers of substance use and abuse
    • Strategic planning and advocacy for addressing violence against children
    • Monitoring progress of implementation at the national level through National COHSODs and reporting to COHSOD on an annual basis.

    Agree to the commitments set out herein, recognizing that political will at the highest level is critical to success

    Georgetown, Guyana, 19 March 2008