Children of St Kitts and Nevis
Realizing Children’s Rights in St Kitts and Nevis
During the last decade, the State of Saint Kitts and Nevis, situated in the Lesser Antilles has made great advances in the promotion and the guarantee of children’s rights. Particularly, in the areas of education, health, nutrition, access to drinkable water and its purification as well as in the fight for the respect of equality between human beings. The progress is evident but challenges remain in preserving the security and the health of children. It is a question therefore of protecting children from violence, notably by way of an efficient penal system, promoting parental responsibility, and facilitating the access of adolescents to sex education.
Realization of Children’s Rights Index : 7,86 / 10
Life expectancy: 73,8 years
Main problems faced by children in St Kitts and Nevis:
Justice system for children
Minimum age of penal responsibility
In the judicial system, the children of Saint Kitts and Nevis are penally responsible from the age of 8 years old. These young minors in conflict with the law are consequently faced with very long judicial procedures, during which their right to confidentiality is often violated.
Children incarcerated in prisons for adults
Saint Kitts and Nevis lacks adequate prisons for holding children sentenced by the law. Furthermore, the penal system has a limited number of personnel qualified to work with them.
Minors are, as a consequence, placed in detention centers for adults, which are generally overpopulated. Because of this they are led to mix with hardened criminals and are thus exposed to potential abuse in the penal environment and become victims of solitude and isolation.
Corporal punishment is authorized by the code of justice of Saint Kitts and Nevis. The law allows judges to sentence minors to whipping.
Children are submitted to a medical exam before the fulfillment of the sentence. The whipping is administered by a policeman, in the presence of civil servants and of parents/guardians of the child.
Corporal punishment is also used as a disciplinary measure in prisons.
Lack of aid for rehabilitation
Imprisoned children do not generally have access to services of social reinsertion or to programs of education.
On average 200 cases of abuse are reported each year to services of protection of childhood (according to the information published by UNICEF in 2009).
Physical and sexual violence represents respectively 20% and 8% of these cases. A growing number of children are placed in institutions due to this violence.
Although the government has put in place agencies such as the Department of Probation and Child Protection Services, there is a lack of standardization in the management of complaints of cases of child victims of abuse, of negligence or of abandonment.
There is also a lack of alignment and of clarity on the role of the police, of the Department of community affairs, health services and of the teacher body.
UNICEF describes the number of minor victims of sexual abuse as alarming, particularly the high rate of girls subjected to sexual violence by older men. In most cases, the aggressor is the stepfather or the partner of the mother. Women and their daughters rarely inform on the sexual abuse perpetrated by the men of their family because they depend financially on them.
This violence against girls comes mainly from the fact that the men/boys of Saint Kitts and Nevis traditionally hold a discriminatory and negative attitude toward the women/girls (despite the laudable efforts for the promotion of gender equality).
Child victims of sexual abuse are often stigmatized and treated as criminals. Their right to confidentiality is rarely observed during judicial procedures.
Very few measures are put in place to help in their physical and psychological reconstruction and their social reintegration. There is also a lack of refuges and phone services.
Saint Kitts and Nevis does not have specialized courts in the matters of rape and sexual assaults. No structure has been put in place to fight against pornography, prostitution and the trafficking of children.
One also notices the lack of rehabilitation programs for sexual delinquents.
Children and their mothers are often reluctant to file a complaint or bear witness in cases of domestic violence.
Their reluctance comes from social conventions of loyalty to the family (one should not denounce a parent) and social conventions in the private sphere (acts of domestic violence are perceived as family business).
Corporal punishment is not prohibited by the law and is largely used as a disciplinary measure in the household as well as in foster homes and other institutions.
Drugs and criminality
In Saint Kitts and Nevis, more adolescents die of homicide than traffic accidents or suicide (these two last figures among the main causes of decease among adolescents in general). Between 2007 and 2010 the deaths by homicide represented 46% of deaths of children aged between 15 and 19 years old, according to OPS/OMS.
In 1999, UNICEF reported a strong level of drug abuse among minors of Saint Kitts and Nevis. The intensification of drug trafficking in the country has been followed by an increase in the number of adolescents involved in gangs, in the production and the sale of illegal drugs, as well as in the handling of light weapons.
According to UNICEF between 1990 and 1998, the offenses committed by minors have passed from 1.2% to 17% of all the crimes reported in Saint Kitts and Nevis.
Adolescents and sexual health education
Saint Kitts and Nevis has a high rate of pregnancy among adolescents. UNICEF attributes 19% of births recorded in 2005 to adolescent mothers.
In 200 cases of abuse reported each year to Saint Kitts and Nevis, 62% are cases of negligence and 1% are cases of abandonment.
Lack of health services
There isnt enough promotion of responsible sexual behaviour in schools and in society in general. Adolescents have a very limited access to sexual education programs and to sexual health services.
In consequence, there is little knowledge and resources on HIV/AIDS, STDs, abortion and sexual violence.
The lack of information on the use of contraceptives continues a strong rejection of contraceptive methods among young men in general. According to UNICEF, in 2008 only 21.1% of sexually active adolescents used a condom during every sexual encounter.
The rate of pregnancy among the adolescents of Saint Kitts and Nevis is elevated. Between 2000 and 2010, UNICEF has recorded an average of 67 births per 1000 girls aged from 15 – 19 years old.
Adolescent mothers have a weak attendance at prenatal services and have bad practices of nursing. Statistics show that in the most common cases of infantile mortality, the mothers are adolescents (the rate of mortality at the house of children less than 5 years old was 16% in 2000 and 8% in 2010).
The governement has put in place measures allowing adolescent mothers to reintegrate into the education system, but they are not applied in a uniform manner on the two islands.
Children and one-parent families
Saint Kitts and Nevis have a large number of single parent families; UNICEF reports that in 2007, 45% of household were headed by women. This model of familial structure can have a negative impact on the psychological, emotional and financial well-being of children.
OPS has established that between 2004-2005 the rate of marriage was 20% in Saint Kitts and 35% in Nevis. On the two islands, the percentage of families in which the father lives in the household rose from 29% in 1990 to 39% in 1999.
In 200 cases of abuse reported each year, 5% are linked to problems of access to children, and 4% to problems of maintenance of children.
Right to protection
There is a lack of legal protection of children’s rights to maintenance and to inheritance.
There are also not many measures assuring that parents who emigrate continue to contribute to the maintenance of their children who are staying in Saint Kitts and Nevis.
The number of structures dispensing aid and advice to parents is insufficient, especially concerning questions of parental responsability.
Due to the lack of access to legal aid and the slowness of judicial procedures, it is very difficult for women to prosecute men and to obtain alimony. This has a negative impact on the well being of children from single parent families or of couples living in cohabitation.
Although women are at the head of 45% of households, they most often have the least well paid jobs.
Even if their level of education is generally superior to that of men, women rarely see their professional positions and their salaries reflect this academic advancement.
It is therefore essential for their children that the judicial system faciltates their access to alimony.
In Saint Kitts and Nevis, education is obligatory, since 1967, for children from the age of 5 to 16. The state assures universal education from kindergarten to secondary.
According to UNICEF, between 2007 and 2010, the net rate of schooling at the level of primary school rose to 92% for boys and 95% for girls.
During this same period, the percentage of schooling at the secondary level rose to 85% for boys and 92% for girls. However, the primary schoolchirldren of Saint Kitts and Nevis are exposed by a lack of teachers and adequate material as well as teaching methods nearly exclusively based on exams.
Boys and schooling gaps
Saint Kitts and Nevis has a high rate of scholarly disengagement for boys registered in classes above primary school. Regarding boys schooled in primary school,there is a weak rate of literacy and a strong rate of school absenteeism.
The use of corporal punishment by teachers is common and legal, according to the legal code of Saint Kitts and Nevis.
There is a lack of adequate structures to welcome disabled children in the school system. Efforts aimed at assuring their inclusion remain insufficient.