Special care and assistance

| 01/09/2008

Article 25 of the Universal Declaration says, Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. Being a "universal" ideal and not merely a "small dependent territory" one, the declared entitlement is a human right and not merely a civil right.

This Article is particularly relevant to Cayman because probably half of our female residents are migrant workers of childbearing age. Our immigration officers have standing orders to deport newly born babies of foreign mothers, unless the mothers are rich, and most pregnant migrants know this. Nevertheless, some of them take chances. A few months ago a young Jamaican helper left it a bit too late to fly home, and gave birth on the plane.

By accepting female migrants of child-bearing age, our governments too take chances. Domestic helpers have minimal medical insurance, which doesn’t cover the expense of complications. So, should Cayman deport all pregnant migrants in low-paid jobs with minimal insurance? Or should our rulers encourage termination in such cases?

I make no moral judgment here except to point to the Universal Declaration and Cayman’s moral obligation to honour its ideals. We should remind ourselves every so often that it doesn’t matter whether or not we have a constitutional Bill of Rights. The obligation exists, regardless.

Our government hospital provides full medical care for Caymanian mothers, babies and children. It usually bills full rate for its services, although some patients can’t pay and some refuse to pay. Medical insurance is required by law, though only at a basic level. Jars on shop-counters bear witness to the need of mothers of sick children for extra money to pay for airfares and accommodations overseas.

Government policy naturally influences the government hospital’s decisions on where, whether and when to send mothers and their sick children overseas for treatment. But only Caymanians. If we as a community are to give motherhood and childhood special care and assistance, as per the Universal Declaration, we have to do more than just ensure safe births for bloodline Caymanians.

Our government is also obliged to care for battered mothers, without distinction, and to protect them from abuse. Our Social Services Department does an excellent job, but they are somewhat frustrated by the administrators of the work permit system. Foreign mothers are especially vulnerable to threats of deportation.

Unfortunately, those threats are not empty ones. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence that some immigration officers and some political appointees take the side of Caymanian fathers over the non-Caymanian mothers of their children. Too often the foreign mothers are deported without their children.

Article 25 goes on to say, All children… shall enjoy the same social protection. The Article leaves it to individual United Nations members’ governments to define "children" and "childhood", but it allows for no distinction among children.

It applies to mad children and bad children, diseased children and mutilated children, children adopted, fostered and illegitimate, children of all ethnicities and national origins and local status. In the Declaration’s ideal every one of them is entitled to the same treatment by the UN member-state it lives in.

Of course Cayman is not a member-state. Britain is responsible for how children and mothers are treated in Cayman. All the same, our local politicians can’t hide behind Britain’s skirts forever. Being a dependent territory doesn’t mean that we can ignore human-rights obligations.

If we as a community insist on recruiting low-paid migrant women of childbearing age, and if we accept the obligation to live up to the Declaration’s ideals, we need to take a whole new look at how our immigration authorities treat those women and their children.

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