World Day News/Media

Message delivered by Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar of Trinidad and Tobago

Message delivered by
Prime Minister KAMLA PERSAD BISSESSAR
on the occasion of Universal Children’s Day and to commemorate the World Day of Prayer and Action for Children
on Sunday 20th November 2011

My fellow citizens, we join the world today on its global campaign of prayer and action, to help reduce and subsequently eradicate the plague that is violence against our innocent children.

Sadly, our nation, like several around the world, has bid farewell to too many of our valuable resources, at the hands of unspeakable acts of violence.

I take this opportunity to address you today, as we observe Universal Children’s Day and commemorate The World Day of Prayer and Action for Children, which is dedicated to creating a world in which joyous childhoods exists, away from the heinous acts of violence which are all too frequently present in our media and our lives.

Not too long ago, we were thrown into mourning over the gruesome demise of nine year old Daniel Guerra. As a mother, grandmother and Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, words cannot describe the agonizing pain I felt and still feel   as I recall the terror and thought of losing a child. With this in mind the Government of Trinidad and Tobago vowed that one child lost to violence was too many, thus I publicly issued "The Daniel Guerra Decree".

An initiative designed to create a platform to deal with critical issues of crime, child neglect and abuse, while allowing for an interactive educational environment, geared at equipping both parent and child with ways to ensure safety at all times.
In keeping with UNICEF's mission which advocates the protection of children's rights, in helping them meet their basic needs while expanding their opportunities to attain their full potential; we as a Government have ensured that every child is given an equal opportunity to free education. This entails the distribution of free books, free laptops upon entering secondary school and free transport via an efficient bus service.

According to a progress report on the UN Millennium Development Goals Every 3.6 seconds one person dies of starvation thankfully our children receive a nutritious breakfast and lunch via the School Feeding Programme. As a Government, we find it necessary to equip the future of our nation with these essential tools, to help them achieve their greatest potentials in becoming the future leaders of our beloved nation. However, we don’t stop there; the rights of our nation’s children are protected under the Children's Authority Bill, which seeks to promote the well being of all children in Trinidad and Tobago. This Bill allows for the provision of care and protection for our vulnerable children.

No wonder, in a recent Commonwealth Report, Trinidad and Tobago was listed among the first top three countries in the world where it is best to grow a girl child. And make no mistake, we are heading for the top position as we put in train the various mechanisms and pieces of legislation on gender equality that will not only improve the lot of women and girls but seek the best interests of men and boys.

I remind you of the words of the late US President, John F. Kennedy who once said “Children are the world's most valuable resource and its best hope for the future.”

My fellow citizens, a child is a joy, not a burden and as a nation, we have a responsibility to all our children. For far too long we have witnessed these acts of violence on our innocent children, and I assure you that this trend of brutality against our young ones will come to an end. I say to you here today that saving the children is the responsibility of not one, but all of us, for if they perish, the future is hopeless.

Violence in whatever form, leaves scars no amount of time can heal, and violence against children is no different. A child subjected to a life of violence lives in constant fear and is left unable to efficiently function academically, emotionally and physically.

Thus, it was my decision to start by taking to Parliament the removal of corporal punishment from the education system. We were successful in that motion and today our Government has been engaged in moving legislation forward, and introducing other initiatives geared at advocating the protection of children, the promotion of child welfare, the preservation of children’s rights, and the prevention of child abuse.

The United Nations estimates that 270 million children, just over 14 per cent of all children in developing countries, have no access to health care services. Thankfully, last year the Children’s Life Fund Bill was passed in Parliament, bringing us one step closer to ensuring that children in need can access funds for life-saving surgery and tertiary-level health care services.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over 1.6 million people worldwide die as a result of violence each year. They also estimate that 40 million children below the age of 15 suffer from abuse and neglect. But sadly, we cannot help these victims unless the code of silence is broken.

As we commemorate Universal Children’s Day and The World Day of Prayer and Action for Children, we pray for those that we have lost, for those suffering in silence, for those too afraid to speak out, those who think they have nowhere to turn, those waiting to be healed and those fighting for change.

I have often said that the values we impart to our children today, consciously and unconsciously, will have a major impact on society tomorrow for if we continue to leave the teaching of values to chance, we, as a nation, risk losing an integral piece of our culture altogether.

This is how I would like to begin as we celebrate with the Global Community, this World Day of Prayer and Action for Children to whose convenors, ARIGATOU International, UNICEF and other partners, I say thank you for placing much needed spiritual and social emphasis on today’s children who will be the leaders of tomorrow’s generation.  And we do painstakingly remembering children here in Trinidad and Tobago and everywhere who have fallen prey to the actions of idle hands and evil minds.

I say this to re-emphasize what the organizers have so brilliantly imagined that each of us must come to care about everyone else's children. We must recognize that the welfare of our children is intimately linked to the welfare of all other people's children. After all, when one of our children needs life-saving surgery, someone else's child will perform it. If one of our children is harmed by violence, someone else's child will be responsible for the violent act.

Therefore, the good life for our own children can be secured only if a good life is also secured for all other people's children.

But fellow citizens, such noble ideals must have a beginning and I humbly submit   that the sojourn begins with us, who are the real role models for the young and impressionable for what they see is what they learn and would invariably practice. In this context, let me hasten to add that whilst PRAYER is one component of the remediation process, ACTION is where we must focus attention.

I urge you as citizens of nations scarred, broken and grieving families, friends and loved ones with concerns; to take action and as the late Mahatma Gandhi once said “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

I thank you and may God Bless all our dear Children.

Related:
Read an article on Trinidad Tobago News Day