THE two-day Caribbean Child Research Conference began yesterday with scores of children in attendance and a plea from Jamaica's representative to United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) Robert Fuderich for more detailed analysis of statistics relating to children.
"Many of the key stakeholders with whom we work in the wider public, do not have the deep insight into the why behind the issues. We tend to spend a lot of time talking about the manifestations of the problems affecting children and less time on the root causes of these problems," said the UNICEF representative.
He noted that Jamaica is not short on statistics for key issues. Data, for example, show that 6,300 cases of abuse were reported to the Office of the Children's Advocate in 2011 and girls age 10 to 19 are three times more likely than boys to be infected by HIV/AIDS. Statistics also show that 18 per cent of live births in Jamaica are among teen mothers age 15 to 19 years
"It is not enough to present the alarming statistic at the rate of teenage pregnancy. We have a duty to explain why so many of our children are getting pregnant so young," he said.
"Last month, at a workshop with teen moms, we learnt that a cohort from a particular parish had no other aspirations than to become a mother at a young age. Because of social norms in their communities, these girls felt that they only had value and worth being a mother and home-maker and the younger they started, the better," he pointed out.
A number of presentations were made throughout the course of the day on issues affecting children. Among the presenters was chair of the Office of the Children's Advocate panel, Melissa Walker, who noted that part of the role of her group is to discuss the issues affecting children and to advocate on their behalf. Her group, she said, also assisted by formulating plans and making recommendations to parliament.
"This Caribbean Research Conference is a wonderful way in which we can congregate and design plans for youths," said the St Hughs High School student.
Chair of the Child Development Agency Children's Advisory Panel and Campion College student, Charles Young, was equally happy for the opportunity to attend the conference. He noted that it was commendable that youths such as himself enjoyed political independence which allowed them to give their views freely.
The conference continues today at the Jamaica Conference Centre in downtown Kingston with a focus on political independence and child rights. Among the main sponsors for the event are the Environment Foundation of Jamaica and UNICEF.