WE have good laws, and there is plenty of awareness of the problem of children's rights, but sadly the protocols, or the machinery, for making the laws work is just not there.
One Fr Jude's AIDS orphans who I have been helping is a young girl called G. She has been living with her extended family and they allowed her to continue her schooling after Fr Jude left. I have been paying her school fees, buying her uniforms, shoes and similar things.
This year G was in Grade 8 at Eki Vaki Primary school and I promised to get her into my school, Jubilee Secondary, next year if she did well in her exams. When I returned from overseas recently I found that G was no longer in school.
She had been taken out and is being kept at home to care for a sick relative. Her education is finished. The family is no longer in Hohola - I don't know where they have moved to.
When a child stops coming to school like this there is no follow-up. There may be a half-hearted attempt to contact the family, but if there is no success then the child is forgotten. There should be a report made to Social Services, and if necessary to the Police.
The family should be found and made to answer for the child's removal from school. But this simply does not happen. It is as if nobody cares! As if it is thought that talking about the problem is enough - publishing pamphlets, articles in the paper, workshops, 'awareness' programs, and so on.
I am supporting four other children like G in three different schools. The one boy has a corner in a hut in a settlement where he sleeps. There is no running water, no electricity, no toilet, he has no family and must find a few kina every fortnight to pay for his bed. Fortunately, he is in Grade 12 and has the promise of a job as soon as his exams are finished.
Two of the girls have no families either and I am supporting them in a hostel for young women run by Sisters. The third girl is in a private school and lives with her mother who is a very sick woman and desperately poor with no other family support.
Two of the girls suffer from very poor eyesight - and one also is partially deaf. They never complained as they knew there was no help for them, and the teachers in the schools they attended never discovered their disabilities because our schools do not concern themselves with such matters.
The schools these young people attend make no allowances for them. They are compelled to pay 'project fees' and to take part in fund-raising for the school, and to somehow acquire textbooks and other school materials, sports clothes and the like. And they are sometimes threatened with punishment - even suspension - if they don't comply.
I feel very cynical about all the talk about children's rights. Children who do not belong to a strong, supportive, loving family are severely penalised by our schools and by everybody else too.
The awareness programs we run should be aimed, not at families, but at our schools, Government Departments, Church Communities, and at anybody who has to deal with children. These are the areas in which the worst discrimination against vulnerable children takes place.