Today’s Editorial February 20: Prioritising our children

During the campaign leading up to the last general election, the People’s Progressive Movement said it would make education a priority of Government, partially because it believed the development of children through education was vital to the social, economic and cultural wellbeing of Cayman.

The PPM also recognised in its campaign manifesto the importance of the family to children and it vowed, among other things to target young people’s needs and pay careful attention to children and young people who break the law.

True to its word, the PPM set upon overhauling the education system and building four new schools, which will ultimately probably cost more than $250 million dollars. Whether their efforts will lead to real improvements in student performance is a matter of debate, but it is clear that the PPM did take bold actions to address that aspect of child welfare.

Given its avowed priority to children, it is therefore extremely disappointing that the PPM clearly dropped the ball when it came to addressing the issue of children with special needs, who are some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

Last October, we reported on the fact that eight adult male prisoners from Northward Prison had been moved to the Eagle House juvenile detention facility because of overcrowding.

A year earlier, we reported on cases where female children, some as young as 13 years old, were being jailed at Fairbanks Prison for women.

No one in Cayman thinks having adult prisoners and youth offenders in the same facility is a good idea. Yet it happens, and more importantly, there is no law or constitutional provision in place to prevent it from happening again.

Now we learn that the bill of rights proposed for the constitution has a provision to prevent children from being put in adult jails, but enforcement of that provision will be delayed four years. The reason: money.

It seems the government doesn’t have enough money to build the necessary facilities to house our adult criminals.

In a time when the government chooses to spend some $250 million or more on building schools to give children a better chance to succeed in life, it is contradictory to think it wouldn’t spend the money to ensure troubled youth are not exposed to influences that could hinder their development into productive adults.

The government can spend more than a half-million dollars to hold a party to celebrate our heroes, but it seems content to allow something which, if not yet prohibited by a bill of rights, fails to protect children.

It all comes down to priorities. The PPM government has said the welfare of children is one of its priorities. Actions speak louder than words.