Panos Caribbean Giving the Region’s Youth a Voice

Indi McLymont-Lafayette and Cossy Roosevelt at a recent Youth Journalism workshop in Haiti funded by The MacArthur Foundation (July 2011)

Andrea Downer, August 2011 – UNITED NATIONS has designated August 12th International Youth Day. The UN believes that on August 12th and EVERY day, youth should be able to participate in decision-making in their families, communities, and nations. Panos Caribbean has been assisting young people in the Caribbean to express themselves for 25 years in their own voices through the organization’s Youth Journalism programme which trains young people in basic journalism skills and assist them to articulate and advocate about issues that affect them through the media.

Our Youth Journalism programme aims to empower youth to advocate effectively on issues that affect them by utilizing the media. Panos’ Youth Journalism Programme “Our Own Voices — Youth Communicating Through the Media” targets young people aged 12 to 16 who are marginalized or vulnerable but possess strong leadership and communication skills. We then trained them to become effective communicators and youth advocates utilizing five interlinked approaches,” Executive Director of Panos Caribbean, Jan Voordouw explained.

According to Mr. Voordouw, Panos has established 16 youth journalism programmes in the Caribbean including in Jamaica, Haiti and St. Lucia over the past 25 years.

The group in St. Lucia recently produced two short videos with Public Service Announcements based on article 13 of the United Nations Conventions Rights of the Child which speaks to the rights of children to free speech and the ability to express themselves via various media as long as those rights do not infringe on the rights of others.

The PSAs were developed by the young people as part of their training programme which is being funded by the Commonwealth Foundation and Panos Global AIDS Programme (GAP).

Jean Claude Louis, a consultant with Panos Caribbean who manages the project in St. Lucia admits that child rights is an issue there. This is supported by the findings of a 2005 study by UNICEF on Child Vulnerability in Barbados, St. Lucia and St. Vincent.

Jean Claude Louis, a consultant with Panos Caribbean who manages the project in St. Lucia admits that child rights is an issue there. This is supported by the findings of a 2005 study by UNICEF on Child Vulnerability in Barbados, St. Lucia and St. Vincent.

The study was conducted during 2005 by the Governments of Barbados, St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines with technical and financial assistance from UNICEF.

As part of the study, a random household survey of households in St. Lucia found that more than half of the children there were ‘at risk’. According to the study, the main risk factors were food insecurity (or poverty) followed by chronic illness of a parent.

Poverty is the major obstacle to accessing nominally free social services, including education and health care,” the study stated.

The study also found that the abuse of children – particularly sexual abuse, was a serious concern to many.

The issue is hugely complicated by a lack of data, by inhibitions and denial, and by a lack of capacity to protect victims and those at risk,” the study continued.

Physical abuse, including corporal punishment, was also a significant concern – particularly as it still forms part of the ‘tradition’ of schools, the judicial system and the home in St. Lucia. In addition, children with disabilities and children infected or affected by HIV/AIDS were found to be especially vulnerable despite the fact that very little was known about them and not enough was being done for them.

There were also concerns that more children were being drawn into crime and the trade in and use of drugs, particularly in St. Lucia and St. Vincent, due to a combination of poor quality education and lack of career prospects.

While that study was done five years ago, the issue is still sufficiently of concern in St. Lucia and other parts of the Caribbean. In May this year (2011) the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States held the first of a series of regional workshops with media in St. Lucia.

The series of workshops are aimed at raising the priority they give to children without compromising child protection rights and privileges.

Communications and Programming Coordinator at the Eastern Caribbean UNICEF Office, Lisa Mc Clean-Trotman welcomed the training noting that the current global economic downturn could make children more vulnerable to domestic violence and child labour.

During times of economic recession children’s stories which are soft news stories, tend to go on the back burner , but it’s also important to recognize that these are also times when children become more vulnerable to exploitation as parents and providers become stressed, Also parents might perhaps use children to help better economic conditions so more than ever this is the time when you need to be more vigilant about child protection issues and also to report them and raise awareness about them as well as to give children, their parents and guardians a voice,” she stated.

During the series of seminars throughout the OECS, the media houses will be looking at issues such as interviewing children, investigating, reporting and writing stories about abused children, legal guidelines on reporting on children in need of special protection as well as the convention on the rights of the child.

Recognizing that children and young people are best at articulating their concerns, Panos Caribbean is giving them the opportunity to do so. In these two videos the compelling voices of young people from St. Lucia defiantly states their rights according to the UN Convention. Please take a moment to listen.

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