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Children Rights- “A National Priority and Children Remains Our National Pride”

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth & Sport celebrates the 32nd anniversary since the ratification of the International Day for the Rights of the Child. The United Nations Convention, which was signed by 179 countries on November 20th, 1989, marks the significant recognition that youth all over the world should have rights and that their voices too must be heard.

Through ratification of said Convention, by the Netherlands in 1989, the Government of St. Maarten was led to structure policy, legislation, and programs in addition to establishing institutions which endeavored to safeguard the rights of children on the island.

However, while much was being done on an international level to formalize and advance the Rights of the Child globally, St. Maarten was no newcomer to the topic of children’s rights, youth involvement and meaningful youth participation since the ratification of the UNCRC.

Specifically, dating back to the early 1960’s and beyond, many dedicated pioneers contributed to organizing youth activities and programs which were not necessarily of a formal nature, but nonetheless successfully aimed to enhance the skills of our youth on the advocacy and leadership front, as well as on an educational, sport and cultural level that catered to various age groups.

Historically we can historically relate youth engagement activities in the 1960’s to:

The first St. Maarten Chapter of the Boys and Girls Brigade (Mrs. Lalie Meyers, Capt. Boasman, Mrs. Thelma Gumbs, Mr. Nathaniel Richardson of the Methodist Church); The St. Maarten Little League Association (Mr. Erwin “Backhoe” Richardson, Nel James, Major Brown among others); The Scouts (Leroy “Boy Blue” Hodge, Leroy Baptiste) The Philipsburg Brass Band (Messieurs Larmonie, Boyston Sorton, Bobby Vlaun, Don Froston etc.);The Cole Bay Theater Company (Mr. Louie Laveist and Mrs. Anne Meyers);The Ambojolettes (Anastacia Larmonie);Adventures in Bookland Radio Program (Mr. Ian Valz);Big Brother/ Big Sister (Mrs. Josianne Fleming Artsen); Annual Book Week by the Philipsburg Jubilee Library (Mr. Richard Nicholaas and Mrs. Irmin Hughes); (St. Maarten Youth Council ); Journey for Education Foundation ( Mr. Boasman) ; Independent dance schools of Mrs. Leonor Hensley; Mr. Kees van Dolderen, Mrs. May Green);The Majorettes- Ms. Sadie Ellis; Teenage Acting Company and the Youth Explorers (Agnes Gumbs) ; the many churches and church leaders and unrecognized community heroes that offered spiritual guidance support and care for children in their communities.

More so, as children’s rights were already existent under the laws of the former Netherlands Antilles, the UNCRC served to galvanized laws and further provisions for children through its international standards that each signatory country pledged to enforce.

On a kingdom level, children’s rights were already at the forefront but were further developed through the establishing of the Kingdom Taskforce for Children’s Rights in 2014. This Taskforce consists of dynamic representation for the CAS and BES islands with St. Maarten being represented by the Department of Youth, under the Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth & Sport.

The Kingdom Taskforce functions as the advocacy and monitoring body of children’s rights within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Various areas of child protection, individual action plans and the exchanging of best practices form part of the core activities which culminates in an annual year report and an annual kingdom conference. As the Kingdom Taskforce is steadily developing, several noteworthy achievements were accomplished in the past four years such as the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding by former Minister of Education, Culture, Youth & Sport, Mr. Wycliffe Smith, the developing of a website for the Taskforce, the quarterly publication of the Taskforce Gazette which features progress developments of each island regarding children’s rights.

Locally, the Department of Youth acts as the advocate of children’s rights on behalf of government and its work spans across all ministries as they too have a role and responsibility to children and youth. Much of the work is continually executed in collaboration with the Ministry of Public Health, Labor and Social Welfare, the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport.

Since the passing of catastrophic hurricanes Irma and Maria, the presence of UNICEF has also been boosting to the Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth & Sport as well as the Ministry of Justice in enhancing the landscape of children’s rights. UNICEF functions as technical partner to the Department of Youth in realizing the department’s projects such as the upcoming Youth Round Table Conference, the Positive Parenting Program, the re-opening of the Youth Desk, establishing of a funding model for Early Childhood Development and a violence prevention program.

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth & Sport remains committed to the continued development in the interest of Youth on St. Maarten and is dedicated to enhancing their position on a Kingdom Level as well as on an international level.
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