Saturday, March 03, 2007

Rights of the Child in Haiti---Where are They?

About 16 years ago the UN advanced the cause of children by launching the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). The CRC contains 41 articles relevant to children. The reality is that in most countries of the world, including Haiti, children suffer hugely because their rights are neglected.

The impetus for the CRC was the needs of children: not only basic physical needs, but also emotional nurturing, social support, good health-care, and education. Hardly a politician or governmental leader in the world would deny the importance of these issues, but environmental and socioeconomic factors hindering change—such as poverty, disease, and corruption need to be eliminated.

Children in Haiti suffer from parents with very little money in their pockets, poor or no education, insufficient amounts of clean water, lack of basic medical care, fragmented families, and violence. In my opinion, from what I see when I examine kids in the slums, they are not doing well. Their affect is flat, they are too docile, and many are unhappy because their stomachs have little inside. Many are very ill and too weak to cry.

HIV is a big problem also. HIV drugs are available in Haiti for poor children, but in my experience difficult to obtain. Maybe I am not trying hard enough to obtain these medications for these kids and families that have no chance without an advocate.

The Lancet (February 25, 2006) discussed the role of HIV and its direct and indirect consequences for children:

1. Babies born to women infected with HIV, even if not infected themselves, have higher mortality rates and developmental problems than their peers, because of compromised parenting of stressed, ill, and dying mothers.

2. Such children are placed at risk of malnutrition and poor maternal-infant bonding by HIV prevention programmes that encourage early discontinuation of breastfeeding.

3. Older children are involved in caring for sick and dying parents with little outside help and in conditions of poverty, where clean water and adequate sanitation are rare commodities.

4. There are 15 million children globally who have lost one or both parents to AIDS.

5. The economic and social effects of HIV/AIDS on children include malnutrition, poverty, neglect, migration, and homelessness. I witnessed all of these every day in clinic. This increases their vulnerability to a range of consequences including illiteracy, poverty, child labor, sexual and other forms of exploitation, HIV infection, and unemployment in adulthood.

6. Psychological effects are depression, guilt, and fear, possibly leading to long-term mental-health problems.

7. In Haiti public assistance for the most vulnerable people is largely non-existent. The Haitian government is not really concerned with the article in the CRC that states that the Haitian government shall support parent substitutes in the responsibility of raising children. Orphanages in Haiti are in a state of disarray.

8. The crisis that children who are affected by HIV/AIDS are facing remains hidden in the slum where hardships of individual children, and those who care for them, go unnoticed. The economic burden to care for these children is borne by those least able to afford it---the households that care for these children, not the government.

9. Guaranteeing the rights of ALL children who live in communities affected by AIDS is more beneficial than singling out specific groups. Systems-based responses are justified by the large numbers of children involved, whose health and well being are affected by poor living conditions and limited access to services. A continuum of responses is needed with help for the extremely vulnerable population of children, and—at the other end—better access for all children to health, education, and welfare provision.

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