(July 11, 2016) – I’m delighted to be here today and greatly honored to join with the Ministry of Social Cohesion and the United Nations Population Fund Guyana Office in this symposium in observation of World Population Day 2016. It’s a real pleasure to share this forum this morning with these two Agencies for it is my firm conviction that in partnership, a systematic and collaborative approach can yield far more significant results than a unilateral one. Further, the presence of the Ministry of Social Cohesion, represented by the Minister herself, Hon. Amna Ally endorses the view previously expressed that we can achieve so much more and foster deeper rapprochement and cohesion through our combined interventions and initiatives.
As you are aware, WPD is celebrated annually to focus global attention on population issues with an overall emphasis on development. This year’s theme is “Investing in Teenage Girls” and was chosen to position the challenges encountered by teenagers on the national agenda of countries given that adolescents and young adults worldwide comprise a significant percentage of the population. Today’s symposium seeks to engage our attention on the challenges our teenagers face and to identify joint actions and ventures that will provide them with options that can guarantee them a sustainable future. Today, the theme has been slightly adjusted to include our teenage boys as we recognize that they too face overwhelming issues in our society. This symposium provides tremendous opportunity, therefore,for us to discuss and work assiduously together to safeguard the education, dignity, safety, health including reproductive health and well being of our vulnerable teenagers whose specific needs are too often ignored.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to engage you for a few brief minutes on the theme in question and what it means for the Ministry of Social Protection. Firstly, the theme brings into focus all the issues pertinent to teenagers, the Family, Gender issues, Social issues – teenage pregnancy, teenage abuse, use of drugs, the critical issue of education – early dropouts, poor performance, peer pressure, bullying and of course the inescapable reality of poverty. I am sure that you now realize the plethora of problems that beset our teenagers and the herculean task that the Ministry of Social Protection faces in its efforts to fulfil its mandate of protecting our nation’s teenagers. I believe too that you can well appreciate the multiplicity and diversity of the issues and the need for collective action and sound investments.
Yes, we have to address these crucial issues which seem insurmountable and difficult to resolve, because our teenagers matter, they are our important assets and are in urgent need of our help. I want to share and apprise you of some of the strategies and investments that the Ministry has already embraced. You are aware, I hope, of the existence of the Gender Unit which is responsible for sensitizing persons about gender issues and for providing a forum whereby our boys and girls can access guidance and counselling if they encounter gender-related problems. I am happy that such an investment has been made and I encourage all stakeholders working with teenagers to make use of its resources.
The Ministry of Social Protection, by its very name and nature bears responsibility for providing the socio-financial nets to cushion the vulnerable families in our society and by extension the teenagers who are part of these families. The investment in families comes in several forms – Social Assistance, vouchers and more importantly the POWER loan agreements and grants instituted to help single parents. This program encourages and supports entrepreneurial enterprise so that single parents can become self-sufficient and provide for their teenage boys and girls so that the issue of teenage labor can be arrested, teens can remain in school and be educated and thereby be dissuaded from wanting to earn a quick dollar either through sale of drugs or cigarettes.
More specifically, I would like to inform you of some the initiatives in progress:
• The teenagers who have been pardoned by the President are involved in a program of rehabilitation run by the Probation Department. The objectives are two fold; acquisition of skills facilitated through the BIT program and provision of jobs by the CRMA
• Teenage Prevention Pregnancy pilot program; after evaluation of the program, the Community Development Groups and religious organizations will be instrumental in spreading this program throughout all the Regions.
• The Ministry is about to sign a MOU with WAD to conduct a field study and run a program for our Teenage Mothers and Fathers this year in two communitiesnamely the Soesdyke/ Linden area and Wismar.
The Ministry has observed these specific teenage challenges:
• In the majority of cases encountered, the teenagers lack parental supervision; parents are not equipped with coping skills and are unable to deal with issues;
• Runaway teenagers and the related sexual issues are a challenge for the society.
Type of response forthcoming from the police is minimal because they do not consider it a serious crime and as such these matters are inadequately dealt with;
Authorities are not notified and so there are instances where
teenagers are in domiciles, living home and still attending school
• Recommendation – the need to invest in training programs for parents of teenagers to sensitize them to teenage issues; *emphasis on coping skills; *building listening capacity and learning to reserve judgement (teenagers always have a story to tell);* learning not to put down their teenagers but to appreciate and compliment them helping to build their self-esteem
• Use of our social media, ads, media houses to convey positive messages to teenagere.geducation, drugs, pregnancy etc.
With regard to out teenage boys, the Men’s Affairs Bureau of the Ministry has initiated teen awareness campaigns in several communities and has used talk shows to discuss suicide, domestic violence, sexual abuse among others. It is evident that much more has to be organized in the teens’ interest and I have a few areas in which I would like to see investment.
• Education – curriculum enhancement to include options such as electronics, IT- designing, clip art; opportunity to make use of their talents in the classroom and act as mentors to other students; in the long run this will help to stimulate their interest and encourage more participation.
• Provision of male-friendly playgrounds – punch bags, hoops- ; help to get rid of pent-up energy
• Workshops focusing on the merits of furthering studies; types of jobs that are available, entrepreneurship etc.
• Support groups
Ladies and Gentlemen, these are some of the investment areas that the Ministry of Social Protection has earmarked to help in the empowerment of our teenagers. I would, however, like to emphasize the importance of the family unit. To my mind, it is critical that we invest in reestablishing the value of the family. Strengthening the family and ensuring stability are factors that will boost our teenagers’ morale. The divorce between parent and child is evident, the absent male contributing to a further disconnect and causing the economic pressures that some teenagers have to deal with from a tender age. The concept of the village raising the child and the support mechanisms that the extended family provided are past, and so our teenagers are left to their own whims, fancies and distractions.
It is opportune that this symposium has as its target our teenage issues. I am confident that a comprehensive Plan of Action with short and long term SMART goals involving our partners and stakeholders will be drafted after the brainstorming and deliberations. Let us provide the right stimuli for our teens, let us try to find the appropriate responses that will develop their potential, and ensure a quality of life that will lead to an empowered, sustainable future.
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