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SKN Junior Minister at OESC Human and Social Development meeting supports regional investment in data collection

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by Kevon Browne

St. Kitts and Nevis (WINN) – The Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) held its Eighth Council of Ministers: Human and Social Development (COM: HSD), hosted by Antigua and Barbuda on April 18, 2023.

According to a statement on the OECS website, the annual meeting was convened under the theme “Touching Lives through Data-Driven Development”.

Ministers for Social Development in the OECS region and Development Partners attended the event to have Ministers consider issues in social development, share local strategies and innovations to social development challenges and foster more collaboration in combatting issues and developing regional policies, approaches, regulations and standards to improve access to quality social services in the region.

Hon. Samantha Marshall, Minister of Social Development, Antigua and Barbuda, chaired the one-day meeting and emphasised that Small Island Developing States with limited resources and restricted physical space must continue to strive for sustainability in a holistic and integrated approach. 

 In his remarks at the opening, Dr Didacus Jules, Director General of the OECS, said the meeting was an opportunity to dive into Social Development compounded by fiscal contractions, inequity and other challenges facing the region.

“For us in the OECS, this eighth meeting of the Human and Social Development is an opportunity to take a deeper dive into the effect of all this on the people of the OECS, to examine their debilitating subjective and objective impact on community, family and individuals to establish the priorities for action. All of this in the face of deep fiscal contraction but exponential enlargement of human needs. A scan of our member states will indicate that we face a range of human and social development issues that have multidimensional impact that requires inclusive and integrated sectorial approaches.”

He continued, “To successfully address any problem; one needs to understand the size and scale of the problem so that the solutions can be equal to the challenge. When we discuss the major issues of poverty, combatting youth deviant behaviour, crime and gun violence, unemployment, environmental fragility and climate change, gangs, poor student performance, and alcohol and drug abuse, we are facing monsters whose danger we understand but whose size we can only guess. We are clear in our understanding that poverty has increased significantly between March 2020 and today, but the only reliable statistics that we have go back in 2018. Updating the precise scale of inequity and disadvantage must be a first step in confronting the problem.”

The OECS  Director General said that while governments should be held accountable for actions that lead to the social challenges facing the region, the blame does not end there.

“Not even in the most controversial of social issues – increased levels of crime- can one realistically ascribe all responsibility to sitting governments. Let us be clear that governments can and must be held accountable for their action or inaction, but responsibility is a shared burden. This is an important distinction because there are many social issues that can only be mitigated and ultimately resolved through whole-of-society approaches. As individuals, as families, as communities, there are levels and spheres of responsibility that must be shouldered if our societies are to become more caring and humane. There is an ancient African concept that we have lost- Umbuntu….meaning “humanity to others”. Umbuntu reminds us that “I am what I am because of who we all are”. 

Minister of Social Development & Gender Affairs; Youth Empowerment, Ageing & Disabilities, Hon. Isalean Phillip represented St. Kitts and Nevis at the meeting and expressed that her biggest takeaway from the meeting was youth engagement reports that inform policy development.

“For the youth engagement, I think that youth presented a very impressive demonstration of how they are currently using online tools in the form U-reports to encourage and to bring about youth engagement and information so that it actually informs our policy development process. I would also add that I think what we’re doing around juvenile justice reform in terms of rehabilitation through the Oasis project is also very significant because we know St. Kitts and Nevis is one of those countries that benefited from an initial investment in establishing our juvenile rehabilitation centre. And so we are looking forward to the next phase of this project, where we’re looking more closely at legislation and seeing how we can build out the framework for juvenile justice and rehabilitation.”

The emphasis on the need to collect more data as a region was also one of the biggest takeaways for the Junior Minister during the meeting.

“Also, I think it was particularly fruitful the discussions that we’ve had, particularly around recognising the importance of data in order to inform our policies not only just on a national level but the commitment to approach it at a regional level, which would allow and help us to develop more policies and projects and programs that would allow us to solve or even to just take an initiative to be able to break down some of the challenges that we all share in some way or another as a region. So I think the commitment that we have all made to collecting more data to be able to inform our direction as a region; I think that is quite significant because we know that is an area that we all certainly struggle with when it comes to data collection for policy development.”

The meeting concluded with OECS territories adopting Key Decisions by the Council of Ministers. Ministers agreed to:

  • Endorsed recommendations of the Technical Advisory Committee for the adoption;
  • of the Social Inclusion and Social Protection Action Plan;
  • Suggested rules for online engagement be integrated in the curriculum with a focus on strengthening moral/value systems;
  • Supported the Child Online Protection Strategic Framework;
  • Requested the role of key Ministries (Education, Social) be clearly delineated within an Implementation Plan for the COP Strategic Framework;
  • Suggested consideration of Mental Health Assessments when reviewing the legislation for amendments to support Child and Youth Justice;
  • Committed to pushing the agenda to effect the Child Justice Legislation;
  • Supported the U-Report initiative;
  • Committed to supporting the Draft Youth Strategy;
  • Committed to continued engagement through quarterly meetings and WhatsApp engagement; and 
  • St. Kitts and Nevis has agreed to host the 9th Council of Ministers Meeting for Human and Social Development.
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