Fri | Aug 18, 2017

Jaevion Nelson: Children have rights too

Published:Thursday | March 10, 2016 | 3:00 AM

It appears many of us are of the belief that children, as 'human beings [...] born free and equal in dignity and rights' (Universal Declaration of Human Rights), should have no claim/access to their rights or they and their parents/guardian relinquish them when they enrol into an educational institution.

The rights of the child continue to be violated on a daily basis in our homes, communities and in public spaces as well as our schools. Thankfully, there have been increasing discussions on the abuses meted out to our children. More and more, we see state and non-state actors designing and implementing programmes and initiatives to protect and promote the rights our children enjoy under the international and local laws. I am, however, disappointed about the dearth of conversation regarding those violations of rights that are perpetrated by our educators and the unwillingness by many stakeholders to address these issues.

The issue of corporal punishment, compulsory devotions, locking students out of schools, suspending and expelling students without due process, compulsory attendance at religious activities by student leaders and, of course, those related to the length of tunics and skirts, tightness of trousers/pants, and types of hairstyles sported by both male and female students are examples of how students' rights are being trampled upon. In addition, unresponsiveness of teachers to bullying, breaches of confidence by guidance counsellors, denying children access to information and tools to safeguard their health and rights, teachers actively engaging in teasing or calling students names, and holding paid extra classes and teach in-syllabus material to the disadvantage of students who can't afford same are abuses as well.

There is a clear and urgent need

for a discussion on the rights of

children, particularly within educational institutions/settings, given the vast number of news reports and stories we continue to hear about that in some way or the other infringe on their rights.

 

DRACONIAN SANCTIONS

Last week, there was quite a bit of discussion in traditional and social media about the decision by Kingston College to bar some of their students who disobeyed the school rule, which stipulates how their hair should be trimmed, from sitting their exam. I am not appalled that many persons have expressed their support for the actions taken by the school's administration. That kind of reaction is expected; we seem to think that rules are rules and that educators should have the power to implement draconian sanctions for students who disobey them regardless of the implications.

I am amazed every time I think about some of the things that pass as sound policy measures or effective disciplinary actions in our schools that continue to have little or no result and violate the rights of children in schools. I am also very uneasy about the level of disparity among our schools where these rules, codes of conduct and regulations that exist and the process(es) for disciplining students and types of punishments are concerned. As I said last week, the situation is rank with abuse and must be addressed urgently.

I hope that Minister of Education Ruel Reid and State Minister Floyd Green will see the issue of the rights of the child as a matter of priority. We desperately need interventions that remind Jamaicans that children have rights - even in educational institutions - and they should be respected, protected and promoted. We need to ensure that the laws, specifically the Childcare and Protection Act and the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, are upheld by our educators and that every action taken by them is in the best interest of the children in their care. In addition, the rules and regulations governing students' conduct need to be reviewed, amended and standardised across all public educational institutions.

I encourage you to challenge yourself today by beginning your discussions about these issues in our schools with an appreciation of the fact that, like adults, children, too, have rights and that these rights should be respected, protected and promoted. I believe if we do this, we can have more constructive conversations that address the challenges we face in our schools.

- Jaevion Nelson is a youth development, HIV and human-rights advocate. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and jaevion@gmail.com.