Statement by Mrs. Faith Innerarity
Director of Social Security, Ministry of Labour and Social Security of Jamaica
on Agenda Item 3B: Review of the Relevant United Nations Plans and Programmes of Action
Pertaining to the Situation of Social Groups
The ?review of the relevant United Nations plans and programmes of action pertaining to the situation of social groups? is a critical aspect of the ongoing work of this commission.
The observance of the tenth anniversary of the International Year of the Family represents an opportunity to once more highlight and reflect on the central role of this critically important social institution and the attendant challenges with which it is confronted.
The family has been described as the cornerstone of society. It is the basic unit of social organization, and it is therefore extremely difficult to conceive how human society could function without this institution. In spite of the changes brought about in the role and functions of the family by the forces of industrialization, modernity and post-modernism, its importance for society has not been diminished.
There are many different socio-cultural characteristics of the family, but also many significant cross-cultural similarities in respect of its structure, roles and functions. As the most important agent of primary socialisation, the family is generally where children first learn the basic values and norms of their culture, learn to distinguish between what is seen as ?right? or ?wrong?, and ?good? or ?bad? behaviour and are introduced to gender role differentiation. The family and kinship network also play the major role in maintaining and caring for dependent children. In many societies, the family is also the primary caregiver for the most vulnerable groups such as the frail elderly, the sick and infirm, and persons with severe disabilities. In spite of the movement of most societies towards social systems based on meritocratic principles rather than ascription, the socio-economic situation of the family into which a child is born is still one of the single most important factors affecting life chances in areas such as health, education and job opportunities in later years.
The activities associated with the International Year of the Family in 1994 gave recognition to both the tremendous potential and the needs of the family in the process of societal development. The year focussed worldwide attention on the family that was reinforced through specific references to the importance of the family in UN Conferences of the 1990?s such as World Social Summit.
In Jamaica as in the wider Caribbean Community, the ?International Year of the Family? served to heighten the consciousness of the population to the importance of the family, and promoted increased coordination among the agencies involved in family-related activities. It also facilitated renewed emphasis on policies and programmes directed at strengthening the family as part of national development strategies. Of particular significance were the public education campaigns aimed at highlighting the role of the family as the basic unit of society, responsible for the social and economic well being of its members. Such campaigns promoted positive values in families and support for families by communities and institutions.
The observance of the tenth anniversary of the International Year of the Family also provides an opportunity to focus attention on critical issues affecting the family.
One major area of concern is the impact of poverty on the family. Female heads of households especially in the childbearing-years, are particularly vulnerable to the vicissitudes of poverty due to unemployment or low wages coupled with the absence of male financial and other support in the rearing of children. Correspondingly, the capacity of men living in low-income communities to provide for their families is adversely impacted by high levels of unemployment. There are serious lifelong implications for children in these poor households, especially in respect of the low quality education that is very often their lot, making it impossible for them to break the poverty cycle. The quality of life enjoyed by older persons and people with disabilities is also significantly reduced when they are members of poor households.
Studies in the Caribbean have shown that the family plays an important role in poverty alleviation and coping strategies. The extended family has historically acted as a safety net both for elderly members who are out of the workforce, as well as younger members seeking to enter the labour market. The family often pools the risk of unemployment among its younger members and irrespective of whether elderly persons reside in the same household as other family members, the family remains an important source of support in old age.
It is within this context that the Reform of the Social Safety in Jamaica targets poor households with specific emphasis on providing grants for children from birth to age seventeen, pregnant and lactating women, the elderly and persons with disabilities. The programme seeks to promote human capital by establishing specified educational and health requirement for all beneficiaries. Children age 6-17 must attend school regularly, the intention being to break the intergenerational cycle of poverty; while infants and children under age six, pregnant and lactating women, the elderly and persons with disabilities are required to maintain scheduled visits to health centres.
The identification of ?International Migration? as one of the emerging themes of the Commission is very timely in respect of its implications for the family. In fact, migration patterns have led to the introduction of the concept of the trans-national family.
In Jamaica and the wider Caribbean region, international migration is one of the factors affecting the stability of the family. Parents frequently leave their children with grandparents to search for new economic opportunities overseas. This practice has negative as well as positive outcomes. On the one hand, older people benefit from the company of grandchildren who provide support in their advancing old age. On the other hand, caring for one?s grandchildren produces economic and social pressures, especially when financial obligations are not met by the migrant parents. Even more alarming is the trend where small children are sometimes left in the care of older brothers and sisters who are also minors, resulting in the emergence of ?sibling families?. This has serious implications for juvenile delinquency and the proper care and protection of children.
In addition, families that are undocumented migrants face a range of very serious social and economic problems including lack of access to quality education and other vital services.
The issues and trends that have just been outlined, makes it necessary for this Commission in collaboration with the relevant agencies of the United Nations system, to promote at both the national and international levels, more effective social protection systems, and other policies and strategies for poverty reduction, that will improve the situation of low-income families, and strengthen the overall contribution of the family to social development.
The observance of the Anniversary of the International Year of the Family provides an excellent opportunity to redouble efforts in these areas.
Equalisation of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities
The government of Jamaica is fully committed to the principles of equality, non-discrimination and the inclusion of all persons with disabilities in all aspects of economic, social and cultural life. This is embodied in our National Policy for Persons with Disabilities based on the Standard rules and the progress now being made towards formulation and adoption of a National Disability Act.
As one of the countries privileged to participate in the activities of the Working Group established to prepare draft elements for the Ad Hoc Committee established to elaborate the international convention on disability, we are very pleased with the progress that was achieved in January. Particularly gratifying was the excellent cooperation between member states and representatives of the Non-government organizations representing persons with disabilities. The participation of the NGO?s in the Working Group greatly enriched the process and the outcome.
Jamaica welcomes the Report of the Special Rapporteur on Disability and supports in principle, the proposal to adopt the supplement to strengthen the Standard Rules as a monitoring mechanism. However, it must be highlighted that this should proceed in a manner complementary to the work of the Ad Hoc Committee, in order to maximise the use of the available human and financial resources. The recommendation of the Special Rapporteur to focus first on certain priority issues is supported. As expressed by other delegations, it would be very useful if this issue could be addressed more fully during this session of the Commission as it is very important develop the mechanism by which this proposal could be most efficiently and effectively pursued.
Modalities for Implementation of the Madrid International Plan on Ageing
The Government of Jamaica has for many years placed great emphasis on plans and programmes to improve the status of older persons. This is reflected in the establishment of the National Council for senior Citizens since 1976 and the adoption of a National Policy for Senior Citizens in 1997. The Mission Statement of the National Council embodies the overarching goal of the National Policy for Senior Citizens:
?To meet the challenge of a growing, healthier and more active ageing population by ensuring that senior citizens are able to meet their basic human needs ? that older persons are protected from abuse and violence and are treated as a resource and not as a burden and to enhance the self-reliance and functional independence of senior citizens to facilitate continued participation in their family and society.?
Plans have been developed to promote the Implementation of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing, both at the National and community level through the island?s network of senior citizens clubs. The Council is also collaborating with HelpAge International in the implementation of an Older Citizens Monitoring Project that involves civil society in tracking of the progress being made by the Government in the implementation of the plan. As discussed in the Secretary General?s Report, the bottom-up participatory approach has many advantages for governments.
The processes that have already been initiated by DESA, including the inter-regional consultative meeting in Vienna has also in December 2003 has also been very useful for the refinement of the approach to national efforts in Jamaica, to mainstream ageing in all development policies and programmes.
Thank you Mr Chairman
Permanent Mission of Jamaica to the United Nations
February 6, 2004