On April 1, 2014 the National Ordinance (AB 5, 2014) regarding the establishment of a Report Centre Child Abuse came into force. In accordance with this National Ordinance the Court of Guardianship will serve as the Report Centre for Child Abuse. Eradication of Child Abuse is one of the many rights protected by the United Nation Convention on the Rights of the Child. A child has the right to be treated fairly which means that laws and practices that are unfair towards children need to be changed as such the mentioned National Ordinance is an important step in the right direction on Sint Maarten. Too often people do not know who to turn to when child abuse takes place or for various reasons  are reluctant to report child abuse. The National Ordinance protects the identity of persons reporting child abuse. The Ombudsman is hopeful that this triggers people to be willing to report child abuse in case one suspect that child abuse is taking place.  

Child Abuse Definition

The National Ordinance defines child abuse as any form of threatening or violent interaction of physical, psychological or sexual nature to a minor in care or dependent on parents or other persons to whom the minor is in a relationship, (active or passive) which causes serious damage, or is likely to be caused to the child in the form of physical or psychological injury.  It must be clear that child abuse has and will have a devastating effect on our Country. Children should not be silenced, but should be able to enjoy their rights.

The definition of child abuse in the National Ordinance Report Centre Child Abuse suggests that corporal punishment, which is still not wiped out for the purpose of disciplining or reforming a child, or to deter attitudes or behavior deemed unacceptable. Corporal punishment is defined by the United Nation Committee on the Rights of the Child as: “any punishment in which physical force is used and intended to cause some degree of pain or discomfort, however light.” This approach that forbids corporal punishment, is strengthened by the recent change to article 247 of the Civil Code that now provides that caring for and raising the child includes care and responsibility for the mental and physical wellbeing and safety of the child and the development of his or her personality. The explanation that the Sint Maarten Parliament gave to the last mentioned article provides; in the care and upbringing of the child, the parents will not use mental or physical violence or any other degrading treatment.”  As such the Ombudsman also applauds the government for reaching the objective of the Caribbean Coalition for the Abolition of Corporal Punishment of Children.

Reporting Child Abuse

Corporal punishment or any other form of child abuse should stop now; citizens are encouraged to report child abuse at the Court of Guardianship immediately. The Ombudsman will guard the promises made and agreement signed by government in the Kingdom Conference that took place in Aruba on April 2, 2014, to improve children’s rights and protect same through policies.

Dr. Nilda Arduin

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