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Sherry Johnson, Florida-based anti-child marriage campaigner who was forced to marry aged 11 in 1971.

‘It put an end to my childhood’: the hidden scandal of US child marriage

The Guardian

In half of US states, there is no legal minimum age for marriage; a 40-year-old man can, in theory, marry a five-year-old girl. But Florida may soon ban the practice for under-18s. We meet the former child brides campaigning for change

Sherry Johnson, Florida-based anti-child marriage campaigner who was forced to marry aged 11 in 1971.
Sherry Johnson, Florida-based anti-child marriage campaigner who was forced to marry aged 11 in 1971. Photograph: Katharina Bracher

Sherry Johnson was 11 when her mother told her she was going to get married. The bridegroom was nine years older and a deacon in the strict apostolic church that her family attended. He was also the man who had raped her and made her pregnant. “They forced me to marry him to cover up the scandal,” Johnson says. “Instead of putting the handcuffs on him and sending him to prison, they put the handcuffs on me and imprisoned me in a marriage.”

Johnson is now 58, but child marriage is not a thing of the past in the US: almost 250,000 children were married there between 2000 and 2010, some of them as young as 10. “Almost all were girls married to adult men,” says Fraidy Reiss, the director of campaigning organisation Unchained at Last.

In most US states, the minimum age for marriage is 18. However, in every state exceptions to this rule are possible, the most common being when parents approve and a judge gives their consent. In 25 states, there is no minimum marriage age when such an exception is made. But now Johnson’s home state, Florida, is poised to pass a law that sets the minimum marriage age at 18 with very few exceptions – thanks largely to her campaigning.

In 2013, Johnson was working at a barbecue stand in Tallahassee when she told her story to a senator who was one of her regular customers. “She listened to me and decided to do something,” Johnson recalls. “She presented a bill to restrict child marriage in 2014, but it failed. That was because nobody understood the problem at the time.

“People thought: this can’t happen in Florida. The minimum marriage age is 18; what’s the problem? But they didn’t know about the loopholes. Between 2001 and 2015, 16,000 children were married in Florida alone. A 40-year-old man can legally marry a five-year-old girl here.”

Sherry Johnson’s marriage certificate.
Sherry Johnson’s marriage certificate. Photograph: Katharina Bracher

Johnson, whose own child-marriage took place in 1971, didn’t give up. She contacted numerous Floridian politicians, told them her story and explained the problem. “It was part of my healing process to tell my story,” she says. Actually, she adds, “I don’t like to use the word story because it ain’t a story. It’s the truth – I lived it.”

Apart from Florida, there are five states in the process of passing laws to end child marriage. It has been a tough battle, says Reiss, whose organisation has been campaigning for laws to be changed all over the country for three years.

“When I began, I thought it would be easy. I thought we would just explain the problem and legislators would jump up and change the law immediately. After all, the US state department considers child marriage a human rights abuse. But everywhere there are politicians who think it’s a bad idea to change the law. You wouldn’t believe how many legislators have told me that if a girl gets pregnant, she’s got to get married. One female Democrat politician asked me: ‘Won’t you increase abortion rates if you end child marriage?’ That left me speechless.”

Last year, 17-year-old Girl Scout Cassandra Levesque campaigned to change the New Hampshire law that allows girls as young as 13 to get married if their parents approve. “My local representative introduced a bill that raised the minimum age to 18. But a couple of male representatives persuaded the others to kill the bill and to prevent it from being discussed again for some years,” she says. “One of them said that a 17-year-old Girl Scout couldn’t have a say in these matters.”

“So they think she’s old enough for marriage, but not old enough to talk about it, says Reiss. “I think that reasoning is terrifying.”

She goes on to outline the harmful effects of child marriage. “Girls who get married before 18 have a significantly higher risk of heart attacks, cancer, diabetes and strokes and a higher risk of psychiatric disorders. They are 50% more likely to drop out of high school and run a higher risk of living in poverty. They are also three times more likely to become victims of domestic violence. Really, child marriage helps no one. The only people who benefit are paedophiles.”

Reiss, who was born in an ultra-orthodox Jewish community, and was herself coerced into marrying when she was 19, says it is “extremely ironic” that laws make exceptions when parents consent to a child marriage or when an underage girl is pregnant. “Because, in many cases, the pregnancy is the result of sexual abuse and the parents are forcing the girl to marry to prevent a scandal. So the law doesn’t protect the child at all. When an adult man has sex with an underage girl, this is considered statutory rape in many states. But when the perpetrator marries his victim, he can legally go on abusing her.”

Fraidy Reiss, director of campaigning organisation Unchained At Last.
Fraidy Reiss, director of campaigning organisation Unchained At Last. Photograph: Susan Landmann

Many child brides come from religious backgrounds and less privileged groups – but not all. Donna Pollard, 34, grew up in a white, middle-class, non-religious family in a town called London in Kentucky, and yet she was married when she was 16. The man was nearly 15 years older. “I met him when I was 14 and going through a difficult time. My father had recently deceased,” she recounts. “He was my mental health counsellor and he acted like I could trust him. He convinced me that we were in love and he said: ‘If we get married when you turn 16, you will have all this freedom and your mum won’t be able to control you any more.’ So I thought I was taking charge of my life by agreeing to this.”

Her mother had no problems with her daughter getting married at 16 and readily gave her permission. “She was glad to get rid of me.”

Pollard remembers feeling very uncomfortable during the marriage ceremony. “The clerk didn’t even look up at me from her computer. She only asked: ‘Which one’s the minor?’ She didn’t assess if I was safe or needed something. He was 30 years old at the time, but nobody questioned the fact that he was so much older. That void of emotion hit me like a freight train. I knew something wasn’t right, but I didn’t feel empowered to speak up and say: ‘I don’t know that I really want to go through with this.’ Nor did I trust my own judgment. I was a troubled teenager.”

Once married, she left school and started working at a grocery store for a minimum wage, soon becoming the breadwinner because her husband stopped working. “He became physically abusive. He was controlling everything I did. In many ways, child marriage and human trafficking are interchangeable terms.”

Pollard left her husband when she was 19 after he tried to choke her in the presence of their baby daughter. “I realised she would grow up normalising violence if I didn’t leave. That’s what gave me the courage.” Looking back, she says that marrying young disrupted her personal development. “I was very good at school. I even received a substantial scholarship for writing achievement. I could have studied creative writing with a grant.”

Johnson says that “marriage put a definite end to my childhood. I was expelled from school and by the age of 17 I had six children. There was no way I could escape. You are not allowed to sign legal documents when you are under 18, so I couldn’t file for a divorce. For seven years, I was stuck with the man who damaged me and continued to do so.

“Child marriage delayed my life. I was never able to attain an education. I am still struggling, trying to survive. Working three jobs as a healthcare provider to make ends meet. And then there’s the pain, the trauma that you have to deal with.”

“We see the number of child marriages going down now, but it’s not going fast enough,” says Reiss. “It’s so difficult to help child brides escape. Our organisation risks being charged with kidnapping because they are under 18. This has already happened to us once. Also, there are very few shelters in the US that accept girls younger than 18. So when girls call us, we have to tell them the help we can provide is very limited. Most of the children who reach out to us for help have tried to kill themselves because they would rather be dead than forced into a marriage. That keeps me awake at night. Something has to change.”

On 31 January, Johnson sat in the public gallery while the Florida senate unanimously passed the bill that will end child marriage in the state (although the bill was subsequently amended to allow pregnant 16- and 17-year-old girls to marry). Several senators talked about her story and thanked her for pushing for the bill. Afterwards, she said that the senate vote helped to heal the pain. “I smile from within to know that children will not have to face what I have been through.”

For more information or counselling on any of the issues raised in this article go to

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UNICEF and Education Ministry to launch campaign on discipline

UNICEF and Education Ministry to launch campaign on discipline

GEORGETOWN, Guyana, Jun. 22, CMC –  The United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) will be collaborating with the Ministry of Education to launch a campaign on positive discipline.

UNICEF’s country representative, Sylvie Fouet says the evidence-based campaign stems from a conversation the organisation has been having with stakeholders for some time .

“That consultation took place about a year ago and we also involved children themselves. It was important because the way of teaching has to change,” Fouet told the media, explaining that part of the campaign will also help the ministry in its review of its teaching scheme” Fouet told reporters on Thursday.

Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist, Michael Gillis and UNICEF country representative, Sylvie Fouet

Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist Michael Gillis said the organisation started the collection of data in 2014.

That data gave an indication of the kind of discipline being practised. A situation analysis was also done on women on children which indicated what was happening and why it was happening. It was found too that there were key issues in hinterland communities.

“We then followed the lead of the data and then collected the information about indigenous women and children. There is a whole lot of evidence which moved beyond what is happening in school, what is being practised in society.  The positive discipline campaign was really evidence-informed,” he said.

The analysis found that corporal punishment was being practised at a very high level with over 70 per cent of parents administering some form of corporal punishment for different reasons.

“The positive discipline campaign will bring additional tools and ways of disciplining,” he said.

Communication Specialist, Frank Robinson relayed some recommendations that could be adhered to by parents to aid in their discipline technique.

He said, instead of hitting the child, parents can explain why the behaviour is not in keeping with what the parent would like.

“Give the child the chance to understand the severity of the action or behaviour by sitting and talking with the child,” he recommended.

At the same time, he said children need to understand that while they have rights, they also have responsibilities.

“So, it more of an empowerment type methodology in terms of disciplining children and so xfar, what we have seen with parents and schools that practice positive disciplining, we have seen positive changes,” Robinsons said.

UNICEF has already produced a video showcasing the perspective of children on the subject.

A second video is currently being produced that will give the perspective and views of the parents on positive discipline.

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IDB launches call for proposals from startups in the Caribbean

IDB launches call for proposals from startups in the Caribbean


WASHINGTON, Jun. 20,   CMC – The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has launched a call for proposals that will reward the most disruptive ventures in Latin America and the Caribbean that are using innovation to improve lives.

The Washington-based financial institution said the selected startups will participate in Demand Solutions Chile, which will take place on November 21 in Santiago, Chile.

Demand Solutions is the IDB’s flagship innovation event that brings together “the world’s most forward-thinking minds to share creative solutions to the development challenges in Latin America and the Caribbean,” the statement said.

In this edition, the IDB said startups can participate in two thematic areas.

In the first, they must provide solutions in four categories related to the cultural and creative industries: Design with social sense: sustainable fashion, smart fashion, urban art, wearable technology; and multimedia that improves lives: videogames, digital content, audiovisual content.

The other categories are: New technologies: 3D printing, blockchain, internet of things, artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics; and export of services to global markets: production and commercialization of cultural content, export of goods and creative services.

The IDB said the 10 most innovative startups in the creative industries will be selected to participate in Demand Solutions Chile with all expenses paid for one representative per startup.

The first place will receive financial support to continue with its development, the IDB said.

Additionally, the IDB said this edition of Demand Solutions will also reward five startups that provide solutions to water and sanitation challenges in the region.

Since 2009, the IDB said along with Fundación FEMSA it was awarded the Water and Sanitation Prize for Latin America and the Caribbean “to recognize and stimulate the most innovative solutions in the water, sanitation and solid waste sectors.”

The startups interested in participating in Demand Solutions must present a solution proposal to a development challenge before July 15, the IDB said.

It said the representatives must be over 18 years old.

Winners will be notified by mail in early September 2018.

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Caribbean American Congresswoman outraged over separation of children from parents at US border

Caribbean American Congresswoman outraged over separation of children from parents at US border

By Nelson A. King

NEW YORK, Jun. 18,   CMC – Caribbean American Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke has joined intensified outrage in the United States over the Trump administration’s decision to separate migrant children from their parents at the US border. 

“There is no act lower than ripping innocent children from the arms of their mothers,” said Clarke, the daughter of Jamaican immigrants, in an  interview with the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC), on Sunday.

Yvette D. Clarke

“We have hit an all-time low as a people and a country,” added the representative for the 9th Congressional District in Brooklyn. “It is one of the most inhumane, cruel acts that could ever be taken by the Trump administration.

“As a second generation American, the daughter of Jamaican immigrant parents,  I take these assaults on immigrant communities personally,” Clarke continued, stating that she has been “a staunch advocate for immigration rights, from fighting for a clean Dream Act, aggressively advocating to keep families together to keeping vulnerable children with their parents, and fighting the Trump administration on their revocation of DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] and attacks on Diversity Visas.”

In addressing what she described as “the racist, xenophobia of the Trump Administration,” Clarke said she has also advocated for the ASPIRE Act, a bipartisan bill to provide individuals who have received Temporary Protective Status (TPS), legal permanent residency.

“This administration has no bounds, even children don’t seem to matter,” the congresswoman said. “Therefore, I vow to continue to fight ferociously, along with my colleagues, against these grave injustices; and, we don’t plan to stop until justice prevails.”

Amid the profound outrage, US President Donald J. Trump on Saturday reiterated what political analysts and observers say is his erroneous claim that Democrats were responsible for his administration’s policy of separating migrant families arrested at the US border.

“Democrats can fix their forced family breakup at the Border by working with Republicans on new legislation, for a change!” said Trump in a twitter post on the weekend.

On Friday, the Trump administration announced that close to 2,000 children were separated from their migrant parents in a six-week period, concluding in May, as part of its “zero tolerance” policy on immigration.

In expressing outrage over the Trump administration’s new policy, Democrats have said that the separation of children from their parents at the US border is just of the incumbent administration’s making – that they had not enacted any law or rule in that regard.

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Contestants at Ethel Fashion Show April 12

Eight Caribbean beauties in NY beauty pageant




According to Yvonne Peters, the Vincentian-born president and founder of the Brooklyn-based organizing group, Caribbean American Cultural Group, Inc., the contestants hail from Belize, Guyana, Jamaica, Haiti, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

The contestants are: Reality Dopwell (Miss Belize); Breana Maxwell (Miss Jamaica); Shanah Forbes (Miss Jamaica); Jamela (Miss Guyana); Maya Grant (Miss Kingstown, St. Vincent); Kaiia Krysta Phillips (Miss Greggs, St. Vincent); Makeda Peters (Miss St Vincent & the Grenadines); and Kimberly Thomas (Miss Haiti).

Peters said the contestants will be judged on swim wear, talent, evening wear and interview.

She said the contestants’ platforms include awareness of sexual assaults on college campuses and Title IX; awareness of rape culture among high school youths; depression and suicide; combating poverty; and building self-esteem in children and youths.

Contestants at Ethel Fashion Show April 12

“Over a period of approximately four months, these young ladies are transformed into pageant contestants through various workshops, such as building a foundation for success, modeling, swimwear show case, talent show case, interviews, communication training, pageantry and dance rehearsals,” she said.

Peters said she founded the pageant in 2010 because she “always wanted to help the young people, in particular young women, in my community and give them a sense of purpose, community involvement and empowerment.

“So, the idea of a cultural pageant materialized; and, years later, we are still going strong, empowering young women to be confident in themselves and become leaders in their communities,” she said. Peters said the venue has a capacity of 1,200.

“So, we looking forward to a well-attended event for family-fun evening,” the pageant coordinator said. “We invite everyone to come out and support this community-building event, support the young people of our community and have some fun.”

Doors open at 5:00 p.m.; showtime: 6:00 p.m. sharp.

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Rezoning of Woodlands for Condos/Villa Project

The public is being asked to give feedback on the proposed rezoning of Woodlands to allow for a potential tourism development project.

According to a release from the Government Information Unit (GIU), the Physical Development Plan for North Montserrat 2012-2022 under the Physical Planning Unit (PPU) within the Ministry of Agriculture, Trade, Lands, Housing and the Environment (MATLHE) would need to be modified to allow for this.

The proposed development, which is titled The Montserrat Ledonda Bay Project’, consists of high end condominium villa/ resort hotel including facilities for recreation and cultural events, which will be designed to be a blend of elegant, romantic, free, open and dynamic themes.  The proposal is therefore seeking to rezone parts of Woodlands from recreation to tourism development.

In light of this request, PPU’s Chief Physical Planner, Clement Meade said that public consultation is required to ensure residents in the area and surrounding areas are adequately notified of the proposed development, and are able to provide their comments and concerns which will be factored into the decision making process.

The PPU has therefore scheduled a public consultation period of sixty days which took effect from June 1 and will continue until August 1, 2018.  Individuals with questions and comments on the proposed development are encouraged to contact the PPU. Within that time span, the PPU has also scheduled a Town Hall Meeting for Wednesday, July 18 starting at 6:30p.m. at the Salem Primary School.

The Town Hall meeting is specifically targeted at residents of Palm Loop, Woodlands, Olveston and surrounding areas; however, any individual interested in learning more about the proposed development and sharing their views on it, is invited to attend.

A detailed copy of the proposed development plan can be viewed at the PPU Office in Brades.  Interested persons can also view a map of the ‘Existing Land Use For Woodlands’ and the ‘Proposed Land Use For Woodlands Rezoning To Tourism Development’ on in the publications section under the Ministry of Agriculture.  Alternatively, the maps can be viewed at the following direct links:

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Monterrat Still nice

Montserrat: still here, still home, still nice !

An OECS release has revealed that this year, the much-anticipated OECS Council of Ministers of Environment Sustainability (COMES 5) will be held in the lovely island of Montserrat.

The 5th Meeting of the Council of Ministers of Environmental Sustainability (COMES) of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) will take place in Montserrat from July 10 to 11, under the theme “Building Resilience on the Frontlines of Climate Change”.

The COMES 5 comes at a critical juncture, given the severe economic and social impacts of the hurricanes of 2017 and  will provide the forum for ministers to engage with senior technocrats and development partners and to make decisions that will advance the climate and overall environmental resilience of the region.

Last year, COMES 4 was held in Grenada under the chairmanship of the Hon. Sen. Simon Stiell, Minister of State responsible for Human Resource Development & The Environment of Grenada under the theme “Accelerating Sustainable Development: Addressing Challenges and Creating Opportunities.” This year, the high-level meeting will be chaired by Hon. David Osborne, Minister of Agriculture, Trade, Lands, Housing and the Environment of Montserrat.

Montserrat is strategically placed to host such a major event. The Emerald Isle of the Caribbean has been able to build resilience despite the eruption of the Soufrière hills volcano that buried the southern part of the country. Today, Montserrat remains attractive and still keep secrets awaiting to be revealed by visitors such as those highlighted in this video. 

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De Ole Dawg – Part 10:The needed radical reform of our Civil Service

De Ole Dawg – Part 10:The needed radical reform of our Civil Service

Has our Civil Service persistently failed to be “fit for purpose” in post-volcano crisis Montserrat? (And, what is that “purpose”?)

BRADES, Montserrat– A few years ago, former Governor Elizabeth Carriere put on the table the question as to whether our Civil Service is “fit for purpose.”

Doubtless, just to mention this means feathers are already ruffled and hackles are rising in powerful circles. The same circles that – on fair comment – have too often tried to sideline or lock out or push out positive change agents[1] or even anyone with the temerity to raise such matters by “speaking truth to power” in our independent media. And of course, such pesky radical gadflies are obvious targets for hitmen to slander, spread gossip on, mock and make into scapegoats!

Guess what: that reaction is a sign that Miss Carriere’s concern was and is on target.

So, instead of shooting down the unwelcome messenger,  let us see how we can soberly and soundly deal with a hardy perennial problem, from the roots to the seeds that keep on bringing up new generations of thorny kusha.

If you doubt that this is a serious matter, simply take note that we are now on the third generation – “phase” – of a major public sector reform initiative.  Of course, we have changed the name; openly saying “phase three” obviously means that phases I and II did not do what was hoped.

A few weeks back, TMR listed the bits and pieces we must put together to get:


1: Identifying, encouraging, developing and supporting good change ideas, their originators and champions.

2: Providing sponsorship and incubators that get change initiatives to the point where they can break through to undeniable success. (That’s what the PMO was supposed to be, bringing to bear world class training, certification and organisation as well as management through the Axelos system, starting with PRINCE2.)

3: Providing Godfather support at top level, with marshals on call to deal with hitmen sent out to destructively undermine change and discredit change agents. (Responsible critics actually help the change process.)

4: Organising an agreed programme of strategic change initiatives with a timeline and designated expediters responsible to break through roadblocks.

5: Similarly, upgrading transparency, accountability and financial systems to provide confidence in the quality of governance.

6: To foster this, there should be joint oversight by a commission of GoM and UKG representatives.”

If we don’t meet that standard, predictably strategic change efforts will fail. Indeed, the Montserrat Development Corporation (MDC) was intended to be just such a well-backed incubator and catalyst for change.  But, if your change initiative is dogged by top-level capacity problems and is captured by the prevailing poorly performing organisation culture and its big frogs,[2] it will also fail. So, let us remember, DfID’s verdict in the 2012 EC$ 5+ million MDC rescue package business case was: failure.[3] In a DfID-sponsored Business Environment Review report, they gave some telling further points[4]“the  MDC  was  terminated following  poor performance  and concerns over management of money, as evidenced by the findings and recommendations of a Task Force review of the MDC in March 2015.” Similarly, DfID’s November 2014 health care improvement project review pointed to[5]gaps in GoM’s project management capacity.

Whether we agree with DfID or not makes little difference: we are seeing pointers to what our principal aid partner thinks, on long and frustrated experience – they are who we have to convince.  The same frustrations led our last Governor to challenge our civil service’s fitness for purpose. And many people across our community will agree that on the whole our Government Departments are not working up to efficient standard. We clearly have a long, rocky row to hoe.

To start, basic civics 101: our Civil Service is not the main arm of Government and it is not the main centre of legitimate power.  We live in a constitutional democracy, and so every three to five years, dozens of people go out door to door and stand on public platforms to face and be assessed by the voting public and the media. Nine of these are elected as our representatives and the platform of the majority sets the political and policy agenda for government. Meeting as the Legislative Assembly, these representatives publicly debate and pass our laws, including our Budgets. Cabinet serves as the executive committee of this Legislature and is accountable to it. Civil Service Ministries, Departments, Offices, Permanent Secretaries, Department Heads and staff – none of which are directly accountable to the people – all serve to facilitate and support that executive arm of our parliament.

Next, no, the Civil Service is not the “permanent government” that puts up with “those elected idiots” for a few years while its senior officers get on with their own business as usual agenda. Instead, its officers should serve the current government capably and ethically, in such a way that they may equally serve the next one and the one after that. Including, when it comes to time to challenge unsound policy based on thorough, sound analysis. In short, a politicised, low capability, self-serving Civil Service undermines its credibility.

Yes, there is continuity in government (which is a key civil Service role), but also there must be genuine self-assessment, review, accountability, partnership with the public, transparency, reform and change – especially in a day when rapid change is itself a driving force. Likewise, if the Civil Service builds a reputation for roadblocks, undue delays, lack of effective performance, poor customer service, laziness, needless delay in payment, doing their private or personal business on Government time, corrupt under the table dealings and more, it is not fit for purpose.

No, shattering the Cabinet-approved Programme Management Office by frog-marching its head out of Government Headquarters on a “no cause clause” dismissal[6] then delaying a replacement for almost a year has not removed the need for a strategic initiatives unit with world class programme based project cycle management capacity.[7] Likewise, dragging out or frustrating reform initiatives or recruitment of key strategic posts or undermining and poisoning people against needed technical cooperation officers has not eliminated the capacity gaps we face. 

Yes, we need a policy level round table where month by month the PS’es and HoD’s meet with the Cabinet and its executive officers to account for progress and gaps on the agreed timeline for the portfolio of critically important transformational projects. Meet, to make decisions on how to expedite the key projects.

And, more.

For, in the end, it is we of Montserrat who must work together with one heart and mind, to create economic self-sufficiency over the next ten to twenty years.

[1]           See TMR:

[2]           SeeTMR:

[3]           See the DfID 2012 MDC Business Case, esp. p. 4:

[4]           See DfID’s BERF report, p. 1:

[5]               See TMR,

[6]           See TMR:

[7]           See TMR:

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In the News

Follow the links as you wish in this brief of news :

Spain stepped up and offered to take in a rescue ship carrying more than 600 migrants after Italy and Malta refused.

Pancake chain IHOP teased a name change to “IHOb,” finally revealing that the new “b” stood for “burgers.”

The repeal of “net neutrality” has taken effect, six months after the FCC voted to undo Obama-era rules which had barred broadband and cellphone companies from favoring their own services and discriminating against rivals such as Netflix.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has reversed a landmark 2014 decision by the Board of Immigration Appeals to rule that fleeing from domestic abuse and gang-related violence should not be considered a basis for being granted asylum in the United States, except in rare cases.

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De Ole Dawg – Part 9: 2018 –Montserrat and DE-colonialisation (not RE-colonialisation!)

De Ole Dawg – Part 9: 2018 –Montserrat and DE-colonialisation (not RE-colonialisation!)

Why did so many people across the region find it so difficult to make sense of Montserrat’s recent request to remain on the UN Decolonialisation list?

BRADES, Montserrat – It is astonishing to see how a recent request by Premier Donaldson Romeo to the UN Decolonisation Committee to withdraw a request by an earlier Premier to be removed from the list of seventeen remaining Non Self-Governing Territories was widely misunderstood across the region. Much of our local discussion was also sadly misinformed. It is as though the UN Committee that was meeting in Grenada with the territories on the list were instead a “RE-colonialisation” Committee. But, obviously, it is a DE-colonialisation Committee. One, that acts under Article 73 of the UN Charter and linked General Assembly resolutions, especially 1514 and 1541 of December 14 & 15, 1960.

The UN Charter, of course, is the cornerstone of modern International Law; as, after two ruinous world wars in 1914 – 18 and 1939 – 45 devastated continents and left up to eighty millions dead it was felt that relations between the nations had to be re-founded on principles of peace. As a part of that re-founding, it was recognised that seventy-two territories were under rule by other territories and that such rule was too often oppressive, abusive and unjust.  There is a reason why “Colonialism” is a dirty word.

So, in Article 73 of the Charter, principles were laid down, starting with these words:

“Members of the United Nations which have or assume responsibilities for the administration of territories whose peoples have not yet attained a full measure of self-government recognize the principle that the interests of the inhabitants of these territories are paramount, and accept as a sacred trust the obligation to promote to the utmost, within the system of international peace and security established by the present Charter, the well-being of the inhabitants of these territories . . . ”

This is why the UK has an acknowledged legal obligation to ensure . . .  political, economic, social, and educational advancement . . . just treatment, and . . . protection against abuses” for Montserrat and other Overseas Territories, as well as to promote constructive measures of development.”  The UK is even supposed to “co-operate” with other countries and international bodies to such ends.  In that context, the UK is also bound to “transmit regularly to the Secretary-General . . . statistical and other information . . . relating to economic, social, and educational conditions.”

Under this Article, the UN Decolonialisation Committee of twenty-four receives and addresses the annual reports on Montserrat and other Territories on the list of seventeen. And yes, Premier Romeo was quite correct: Montserrat was never actually taken off the list, although the request for de-listing is put in annual reports on Montserrat. [1]

Now, UN General Assembly Resolution 1541 in 1960, Principle VI, lays out three alternative solutions to the non-self-governing territory challenge:

“A Non-Self-Governing Territory can be said to have reached a full measure of self-government by:

(a) Emergence as a sovereign independent State [→ e.g. Antigua];

(b) Free association with an independent State [ → e.g. Puerto Rico]; or

(c) Integration with an independent State [ → e.g. Martinique or Guadeloupe].”

The UK has apparently taken the view – after its experience with Antigua and other EC states from 1967 on, that “Associated State” status[2] should be tied to a definite date for independence. However, as the annual reports also point out, in 2015, the Joint Ministerial Council (JMC) communicated the view that remaining UK OT’s enjoy constitutional democratic governments and a “modern relationship” with the UK.[3] (Fair comment: this seems to be a name for a weak form of Associated State!)  Also, the recent passing of an Act by the UK House of Commons mandating public beneficial ownership registers in OT’s has raised serious questions in many minds here and in the other OT’s.  The decolonisation issue, obviously, is not settled.

Premier Romeo, has long said that one of his main goals is for Montserrat to “stand up on its own two feet” economically. Clearly, economic self-sufficiency is a key step to self-government: he who pays the piper calls the tune. So it is no mystery why the theme of the 2018/19 Budget is “Advancing our Journey to Self-Sustainability through Strategic Investments.”  In this budget, Mr Romeo has therefore announced five “breakthrough” initiatives as key steps towards self-sufficiency[4]: 1] the sea port breakwater, 2] subsea fibre optic cable, 3] geothermal energy development, 4] EC$ 60 millions from the European Union (to go with EC$ 54 millions from the UK for the port) and 5] the ten-year Economic Growth Strategy.[5] The Premier also intends to speak before the UN and to invite a visit by the Committee, obviously to request much-needed development assistance.

Now, too, the UN has a publication, “What the UN Can Do To Assist Non-Self Governing Territories.”[6] Montserrat is listed in it as an associate member of UN ECLAC and UNESCO, the UNICEF EC office has Montserrat on its beat, UNDP (acting through CARTAC) has helped us, we can apply to UNEP through its Panama City office, FAO has an office in Barbados, we routinely work with PAHO/WHO. ILO (International Labour Organisation) services are available to us, and doubtless UNIDO[7] (the UN Industrial Development Organisation) will be equally willing. The IEA[8] (International Energy Agency) though technically not part of the UN may be helpful too. Some years ago we received a technical mission from the IMF.  Beyond the UN, regional agencies such as OECS, ECCB, CARICOM, UWI, CDB and more are quite willing to work with us. Obviously, the JMC of the other OT’s and the UK is another key contact and through it we may find ways to work with other UKG Departments, not just DfID and FCO.

 History gives a yardstick: it took twenty years from the 1960’s to 1980’s to modernise our economy sufficiently for us to fund our recurrent budget. (We were still heavily dependent on the UK for development aid.) But, the volcano struck and we lost 2/3 of our people, lost access to 2/3 of our land, lost much of our key infrastructure and housing, etc. Our power station went out of use. Our refurbished and upgraded hospital was lost, as was our brand new Government Headquarters. A project to greatly expand the W H Bramble Airport was killed by the eruption and the just completed replacement jetty for the one lost to Hugo in 1989 was rendered largely useless.  Our economy is half what it was in 1994 in “real” terms, investor confidence is low and with many key initiatives delayed for twenty years, DfID has not given us a vote of confidence as a good development prospect.

So, we have a much more difficult development challenge today than back in the 1960’s – 90’s.

Clearly, the UN can help us meet the challenge, and the legal force of the UN Charter Article 73 provides urgently needed balance to the bureaucrats in DfID and FCO. Yes, better infrastructure and a supportive climate will attract catalytic foreign investments, too. But in the end it is we of Montserrat who must work together with one heart and mind, to create economic self-sufficiency over the next ten to twenty years.

[1]           See the 2017 report:

[2]           See Wikipedia for a useful, accessible “101”:

[3]           See the 2010 Constitution Order:

[4]           See the 2018/19 Citizen’s Guide:

[5]           See TMR,

[6]           See UN,

[7]           See:

[8]           See:

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