RT. HON. P.J. PATTERSON, Q.C., M.P.
HILTON KINGSTON HOTEL
THURSDAY, AUGUST 2, 2001
The problem of street children is growing at an alarming rate, and all indications are that the pace will continue for the foreseeable future.
It is not a phenomenon peculiar to Jamaica. It has become a pattern of universal concern.
Many leaders of Non-governmental International Development and Child Welfare Organizations, view the problem of street children as a symptom of the gross imbalance in the distribution of resources globally.
The late Executive Director of UNICEF, James Grant stated that "Lines of causality can even be drawn connecting the street children to an international economic system that has accelerated impoverishment and stalled development in much of the Third World."
Some social psychologists on the other hand, view the children who take to the streets as adapting functionally to otherwise unworkable home situations.
Regardless of the reasons given for the existence of street children, it is estimated that 100 million children live and work on the streets in developing countries, with Latin America accounting for 40 million.
The Situation in Jamaica
It goes without saying that the situation of street children and youths as it exists in Jamaica today, is totally unacceptable to the Government and the nation.
- It is unacceptable because it is a waste of valuable human resource; it is unacceptable because it impacts negatively on the society and communities.
- It is unacceptable because it increases the dysfunctional nature of the families so involved, and finally.
- It is unacceptable because it breeds dependency and inhibits self-reliance.
Jamaica, like most of its counterparts in the Third World, has witnessed a rapid increase over the past five years in the number of children and youths who have taken to the streets for one reason or the other.
The street children and youths are probably most visible at major intersections in the Kingston Metropolitan Area, washing the windscreen of passing motorists.
Regrettably, there are no reliable statistics relating to the number of children and youths who work and/or live on the nation's streets. In recognition of this shortcoming, the Child Support Unit of the Ministry of Health will be carrying out a national survey of street and working children during the months of August and September 2001.
This follows on a series of Key Informant Seminars held in each of the four Ministry of Health regions, where persons working with Child Welfare Agencies, both in the public and non-governmental sectors, discussed the problem with a view to identifying the main locations, causes, conditions, consequences and needs of street children and child labourers.
The Child Support Unit has been working on this study in partnership with a number of concerned organizations, through a coordinating committee comprising: Children First, the National Initiative for Street Children, the Women's Bureau, the Council for Voluntary Social Services and the Children's Services Division.
The survey will be carried out in all parishes and locations within those parishes where a significant incidence of street and working children has been identified and for which there is no available database.
A few localized studies have recently been done by the ILO's International Programme for the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC). The empirical studies indicate that the problem may be generally under-estimated in Jamaica.
The national survey will seek to:
- Quantify the number of street and working children
- Identify their activities and locations
- Get first-hand information from the children themselves, their parents and schools, on the causes, conditions and consequences of street and working life.
This study is considered necessary, if national policies and programmes required to alleviate, and eventually eliminate, these conditions are to be properly planned, based on an accurate understanding of all dimensions of the problem.
Let me publicly acknowledge the tremendous efforts of the NGO/CBO community, the churches, the private sector, Government agencies and service clubs aimed at addressing the problem of children on the streets. Many of these agencies are represented here today.
After reviewing all the efforts to deal with the issue of street children, I concluded that they were too fragmented and lacked systematic coordination. It became evident to me that the problem called for a holistic approach centered around greater integration of the various efforts.
I have insisted on a coordinated and comprehensive programme that could bring together the myriad of organizations working on this problem, in an effort to pool and maximize resources and expertise. This programme should be a forum for sharing ideas and approaches to the problem.
This collaboration should, in turn, produce a sustainable programme that provides the disaffected children and youths across the island with the tools necessary to break free from the cycle of poverty. Such tools include education, employment and health care, which will ensure that they remain off the streets.
I want to emphasize that the programme must ensure that children of school age, who are not in school, are reconnected to the educational process.
To ensure acceptance and success it is essential that the children and youth are brought into the decision making loop, to guarantee that their concerns, problems and ideas are borne in mind at every stage of the programme.
The Possibility Programme
The Possibility Programme is a national programme aimed at improving the lot of street children and youths across the nation, by providing them with the resources, support and tools for maximizing their human potential. It should enhance connectedness with family, community and the larger society.
The ultimate goal of the Programme is to eliminate the need for children and youths to be on the streets, thereby breaking the cycle of poverty.
This programme, while initiated by the Office of the Prime Minister and partially funded by government, will be governed, monitored and coordinated by an Executive Management Board made up of key stakeholders in the process, drawn from the church, the government, the private sector and the NGO/CBO community.
In addition the programme will have several partner agencies that will be intimately involved in the rehabilitation and empowerment of the street children and youths, through a system of intake, assessment and referral.
While this programme is intended to be national in scope, it has been decided to initially concentrate on assisting street children and youths in the Kingston Metropolitan Area, particularly those who wipe windscreens and hustle at major intersections.
Components of the Programme
The Possibility Programme takes a multi-dimensional approach, which will not only meet the social/emotional needs of these at-risk children and youths, but will address their skills and employment needs as well. In keeping with this holistic approach the Possibility Programme will involve three centers: a Care Centre, a Re-socialization Centre and a Skills/Employment Centre.
The Care Centre, which will be located on Ambrook Lane, in the upper Hagley Park Road area, will be operated by the St. Andrew Parish Church.
This Centre will act as the Programme's main intake area and will be the first point of contact between these at-risk children and youths and the Possibility Programme.
At this Centre youngsters will be evaluated and referred to the relevant social service agencies for follow-up action and support.
The Centre will be the entry point for all facets of the Possibility Programme.
The concept of the Care Centre is by no means new. A current programme of the St. Andrew Parish Church, The Little Brothers of St. Andrew Centre, will serve as the model.
The Care Centre will be integral to the success of the programme, and every effort will be made to ensure that this initial point of contact will leave a lasting and positive impression in the minds of all those who come in contact with it.
The Re-socialization Centre, will have the responsibility for caring for those street youths who have been assessed with behaviour disorders.
This Centre will be located at the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) Training Depot in Newcastle, and is being incorporated in an existing programme run by the Kingston Restoration Company (KRC).
The overall responsibility for this portion of the Programme will fall to the KRC in collaboration with the JDF.
The Centre will offer training geared towards addressing attitudinal problems while equipping these youths with life skills, which will encourage them to take a positive view of life and to behave in a more socially acceptable manner.
The Skills/Employment Centre will focus on providing viable employment opportunities for those at-risk youths over 16 years of age.
Through the activities of this Centre, youths will not only be provided with marketable skills but will be placed in a situation to facilitate their achieving financial independence and a sustainable livelihood.
This Centre will be run with the assistance of HEART/NTA and the LEAP Centre. Youths will be trained in customer service, personal hygiene and deportment in addition to learning a marketable trade.
ROLE OF JCF
In addition to the other agencies that will be involved in the running of the centers and the referral process, the Jamaica Constabulary Force is a key partner.
The Force has provided a cadre of Officers who will be specially trained to monitor the various intersections in the Kingston Metropolitan Area, with a view to making referrals to the Care Centre.
These Officers will also be responsible for assisting in the counseling of these at-risk youths, in order to encourage their participation in the programme, or to dissuade them from returning to the streets once they have become a part of the programme.
I concur with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Jamaica is a signatory, that children are born with fundamental freedoms and the inherent rights of all human beings.
As such, all our children must enjoy the rights to a decent quality of life, health and education, a caring family environment, play and culture.
Our children must be protected from abuse of all kinds and are entitled to having their voices heard and their opinions taken into account.
I expect that "through an ongoing programme of rehabilitation and skills training, this programme will integrate at risk children and youths into the society, thereby increasing their chances of becoming productive citizens."
I want this programme to reflect a caring Jamaica where all children and youths are given the opportunity to maximize their potential and make a meaningful contribution to society.
This programme is another in the government's effort at poverty eradication.
To this end, I call on all Jamaicans in every walk of life to become involved in whatever way possible in the task of giving a helping hand to these, our children who are in desperate need.