SAFFIYAH EDOO

The much-anticipated Children’s Bill is here, once more, we might add, this time under the  mentorship of another minister. While many of the announcements made in the bill have been welcomed by a number of people, there still seems to be discrepancies that are not addressed. A number of the Bill’s proposals might hold much water but unless they are supported by laws and policies in other sectors, the application might not be as productive as intended. For this to take place, there needs to be an update in supporting institutions and framework without forgetting committed people in place for an optimum implementation.

Education is a key determinant in shaping a person’s life hence the emphasis laid thereupon by one and all. While the law requires any child below and up to 16 to attend school, the number who fall in the cracks of our educational system is alarming. Reasons for children deserting school may range from lack of means on parents’ part or interest on children’s part, inability to find one’s place in the current system without relevant support to and management of vulnerable children or those in dire conditions, stigma that comes from precarious life conditions, among a range of reasons. While the Bill does not specify anything on mandatory school attendance, in many instances it presumes that children are present in the school. In the interest of children, as is being defended by the said Bill, isn’t it also the responsibility of the Ministry of Education to start thinking about updating legislation and policies, including a more stringent approach towards reporting of absences, observations of questionable behaviour and the like, as well as a whole segment on life skills, to support the implementation of certain clauses of this Bill?

It is also high time to stop wearing blinkers with regard to teenagers and sexuality.  With the rise of sexual activity from a younger age, isn’t it time for the Ministry of Health to work jointly with that of Education and that of Child Development to start a solid program on sexual education in schools? The school should no longer be seen as a mere institution for dispensing academic teachings, rather it represents the ideal place to widen the educational horizon towards a more holistic approach.

While the Bill announces the creation of a Child Services Coordinating Panel, with an inter-ministerial composition, it would seem that its functions overlap with an existing competent body directly related to the rights of children, whose outlook provides a much-needed outsider view, for an optimized approach. Wouldn’t resources devoted to the proposed Child Services Coordinating Panel be more effectively utilized by being distributed among existing bodies and to ensure accountability?

If the recent tragic death of Little Ayaan Ramdoo has taught us anything, it’s the fact that parents have an essential role to play in the welfare of children and it is incumbent to provide a support system to those who find themselves unable to cater for their children on their own. Before resorting to drastic measures such as placement, there should be a system whereby parents have a safe space to talk, to seek help and work with competent people to find a way to raise their children conveniently. In an era where identification has become even more easily accessible to authorities, it should not be a problem to identify vulnerable families either by proper follow-ups since birth recording or by regular health checks. It may be time for the relevant authorities to consider setting up such a support system.

This Children’s Bill represents an opportunity for the government if it truly wishes to invest into the adults of tomorrow. It should take this Bill or a refined version, as a starting point to review and update legislations across the board. As the almost clichéd saying goes it takes a village to raise a child; it also takes a responsible government to realise that the child issue should not be viewed as a singular political milestone, but rather as the coming together of various factors which would see to it that the country’s future has been ensured with the best system it could put in place.