THE ANNUAL MEETING of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Council of Ministers for Human and Social Development was held virtually from October 1213, 2021 under the theme “Data and Dialogue for Direction: Using Information and Engaging People to set the new Social Agenda in the COVID-19 Era.”
This year, the meeting was held as part of the wider ‘Leave No One Behind Social Protection Conference’, designed to increase awareness and dialogue around the development of shock-responsive social protection systems, a release from the OECS states.
Social protection systems are designed to protect the most vulnerable in society and to ensure access to a basic level of needs for all. These systems have more to do in times of crisis, such as after disasters or economic shocks resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, as many people lose their livelihoods and more people are in need.
Under the chairmanship of Dee-Ann Kentish-Rogers, Minister of Social Development and Education for Anguilla, the Council of Ministers received presentations from Member States on COVID-19 responses.
It was clear that all presenting Member States, with the support of Development Partners, increased the number of persons receiving assistance and some increased the amount of assistance received by persons in response to COVID-19. At the same time, it was clear that Member States continue to have gaps in data and information around poverty, unemployment and beneficiaries.
The Council agreed to support, as feasible, requests for greater technical, financial and human resource support towards social protection data.
The Council also discussed the significant progress made in Child Justice Reform in the OECS and committed to ensuring relevant resources are available to continue this work. Changes in legislation mean that children across the OECS now have alternatives to prison and opportunities for rehabilitation when they get into conflict with the law.
A report was shared on Child Abuse data from 2017 -2019 which showed that there continue to be reports of physical and sexual abuse and neglect of children, with higher rates amongst girls, and children with disabilities. It was also noted that these numbers may be increasing under the strain of the COVID-19 pandemic. Further research will continue in this area.
A highlight of the meeting was a report from the Chair of the OECS Youth Advisory Network Kamalie Mannix, who reported the ongoing engagement of youth across the region in the development of a youth strategy. Mannix highlighted current youth concerns including, unemployment and availability of opportunities to build relevant skills.
The Ministers of Social Development further: acknowledged the current strains related to the ongoing surge of COVID-19 including the increased responsibilities of the ministers and ministries as well as the impact on country capacity; acknowledged the tourism protocols from CARPHA, created in collaboration with the OECS, and the continued challenges of balancing tourism and COVID-19 protocols, including those for the cruise industry; agreed to support the collective approach to increase vaccinations among the population and relevant essential workers; and agreed to facilitate the psychosocial support of health and social service workers.
The Meeting also received presentations by Development Partners such as the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the World Food Bank (WFB), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Caribbean Development Bank (CBD), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and other relevant partners on the ways that they can and continue to support social protection in the region.