On 17 June 2020, in celebration of Constitution Day, the Judiciary hosted “A Conversation with Children: Article 31 – Children’s Rights Under the Seychelles Constitution”.

The Judiciary hosted a discussion between children from schools across Mahe and a panel of experts comprising of:

  • Chief Justice Dr. Mathilda Twomey
  • Ambassador, Dr. Erna H. Athanasius, Chairperson of the National Council for Children, Chairperson National Commission for Child Protection, Ambassador for Women and Children
  • Principal Secretary Linda William-Melanie, Social Affairs Department
  • Desiree Hermitte, Chief Counsellor, Student Support Services Section, Ministry of Education
  • Trevor Louise, Step Up

The conversation was moderated by Patricia Francourt.

Under Article 31, children have a special right to be protected by the State. Children have a right to be protected from sexual and physical abuse, and psychological harm. They may not be required to perform child labour. They have a right to live in a safe environment, free from any form of discrimination.

Traversing a broad range of issues, this event sought to elicit children’s understanding, and to empower them with new information that will help them navigate their role as a specially protected category of persons in Seychelles.

The event was attended by Designated Minister Mondon, the President of the Court of Appeal, Supreme Court Judges and Magistrates, the Attorney General, members of the newly established Child Law Reform Committee, teachers, students, members of the public and the media.

The participating schools were: School for the Exceptional Child, Anse Royal Secondary School, Beau Vallon Secondary School, Mont Fleuri Secondary School, Plaisance, English River, Independent School and Belonie School.

The event will be broadcast on SBC.

Chief Justice Mathilda Twomey opened the event:

“It is remarkable that a few weeks ago, we were not able to meet like this due to the restricted movement regulations in place.

The Covid-19 pandemic has made its impact felt globally. The world has had to adapt, under severe circumstances. As members of this global community, we also had to acclimatise.

The new normal unfortunately means that you cannot sit close enough to fall asleep on the shoulder of the person next to you because the judiciary dragged you here after a long day at work.

We’re incredibly honoured, and privileged to have you with us this afternoon to mark the adoption of the Seychelles Constitution.

27 years ago, we came together as a nation and agreed to start to build a new Seychelles.

We envisaged an egalitarian society with a robust foundation. A society where the rule of law is upheld. Where fundamental human rights and freedoms of all are valued.

A society in which the inherent dignity of all human beings is recognised and respected. Where all people – regardless of age, race, sex, orientation, belief – enjoy equal protection of the law.

The importance of these ideals, and their implementation, cannot be overstated. As we look around the world, constitutions are failing to provide the protections they demand. Racism, xenophobia, homophobia and sexism continue to persist, both abroad and sadly here at home. Covid-19 has exposed wide socio-economic inequalities and exacerbated vulnerabilities of many. Now, more than ever, we need to take stock and reflect on what it means to live in a constitutional democracy, and what it requires of those in power. The Constitution sets the parameters within which all conduct must occur. These parameters are defined by a set of fundamental values, that must guide us as individuals and as a society.

When we adopted these values 27 years ago, we set out to create the best possible version of Seychelles not just for ourselves. We also wanted to ensure that the heirs of this fledging constitutional democracy enjoyed all the benefits that flow from this important document. We wanted our children to have a society that they could belong to fully, and flourish in as children.

Every year, the Judiciary hosts a Constitution Day event, to reflect on the importance of the Constitution, the gains made, the challenges and to hear from different voices and institutions on what the Constitution of Seychelles requires of citizens, the government, constitutional bodies and the Judiciary. Last year we heard from the Human Rights Commission, the Legal Profession, the Judiciary and the Legislature. This year we decided to do something different; this year we are focusing on Article 31 of the Constitution, which extends special protections to children and young persons.

Article 31 categorises children as a vulnerable group with special status, and places a duty on us to create a safe and wholesome environment for our children where they are free from abuse and exploitation.

It says that they are entitled to be safe in their homes, schools, communities, and that they must have equal protection of the law.

This is the undertaking that we gave them 27 years ago. Have we managed to meet this promise?

There have been great strides in some areas. But other areas deserve greater attention.

A few months ago, our Supreme Court delivered a judgment in a matter that, once more, highlighted the harrowing experiences that children endure when we fail to meet the standards that we had set when we adopted the Constitution.

Right under our noses, a paedophile ring committed the grossest atrocities against a number of children who were as young as 10 years old. The lives of these children have been changed for ever. And every other day still, children in our societies are violated.  This should not happen under our constitutional democracy.

There is no place for any form of abuse against children under our democracy. Be it physical, sexual, emotional, psychological. It is our duty to protect children.

The recently established Child Law Reform Committee is an important first step for Seychelles. Established by the President the Committee is an independent, multi-stakeholder Committee, that will review the laws of Seychelles.  I want to welcome some of the members today who are in the audience, and some of whom are with me on the panel this afternoon. I hope you find these discussions useful. I will serve as Chairperson of this Committee, in my personal capacity and look forward to working with the other members. The Committee will have a huge task, in the coming months, to go through our laws and identify the problematic and outdated systems, and propose new ones. In the end, Seychelles will have systems that meet the special needs of children under Article 31 and meet best international standards.

This year’s Constitution Day event recognises the importance of educating and empowering children, and the broader society, about how they are perceived under the Constitution. The hope, today, is that we can meaningfully reflect on our duty toward children, and to hear from them about their understanding of this duty. Today we are joined by a number of children from schools on Mahe. They will tell us how they think we measure up against the standard set in the Constitution. We have to listen to them. What they have to say today matters.

And when we have listened, and understood them, we have to start to work in earnest to fulfil our mandate under Article 31. It is urgent that we do.

I want to thank the panellists, and our moderator, Patricia Francourt, for making the time to join us today, and to share their views and perspectives. I also want to say a special thank you to the students who have joined us today. I am nervous and excited to engage with you all. Today, the conversation is in your hands.

Thank you.”

Reflecting on the event Hemma Mellon, from English River Secondary School, shared her reflections on the event:

Good afternoon ladies, gentlemen and children, on behalf of all my colleagues present here today and in honour of English River Secondary School; I would like to thank the judiciary and the panel for hosting such an event where we got the chance to ask questions and clarifications with freedom and independence.

We feel honoured to have taken part in the event and we appreciate the responses to our questions. Even as a child I have always been a defender of children’s rights; therefore the information we have received today has enhanced our knowledge in child protection, our responsibilities and our rights, all very important. We hope now to be able to pass it on to our other peers. We strongly believe that we should be more educated on our rights not only as children but as human beings.

In this decade it is hard to voice out when you are a minor, because we are hardly ever heard. I think that parents, teachers, neighbours and everyone else in society should all listen to a child’s complaint and opinions about certain issues; because after all the future of our country is in our hands; so why not walk with us hand in hand from the start?

We also think that the people in the authority should include us in their decision making because we also have a lot to say and ideas to share. Nowadays kids are scared to voice out as a result of not being heard. I for one; believe that children can help make a difference but with the help of adults. My only message to all children is to know your worth, we have certain rights but with rights come responsibilities which we have to undertake. My message to the adults is to listen to us, ask us what we think about certain things, teach us how to be responsible in relation to our rights, protect us today so we could help you tomorrow.

-Thank You

Whitney Padayachy, from  English River Secondary School, in her closing remarks, addressed the audience:

Good afternoon ladies, gentlemen and students present. It gives me great pleasure to be here today to represent the children of Seychelles. First and for most, the children of Seychelles go through a lot on a daily basis; for some of us we struggle to handle the hardships of growing up.

The protection of youth means a lot to me, since the youths are the future of our nation. Therefore it is important that children have someone to guide them through the complexities of life; have someone to be able to build their confidence, give courage and wisdom to face the future.

As such it is in everybody’s best interest that organizations support the youths through encouragement, moral support and financial aid if necessary.

Organizations and agencies should also lend a shoulder for children to lean on whilst sharing the wisdom that they have gained over years of experience.

When children are heard, it creates awareness of their plight and allows professionals to come to their help. When we walk the talk all will be to our advantage.

To children who are listening…

We should always speak out and seek for help whenever there is a need. Do not suffer in silence. I wish to take this opportunity to thank the judiciary for organizing this event today. You made us feel like we have a strong voice. I also want to thank the panel for being so open and honest when answering our questions. I hope that there will be more events like this in the future.

-Thank You

The event’s moderator, Patricia Francourt, Education & Skills Development Consultant, in her closing reflections said that:

Every child matters; Today, the Judiciary – supported by the Constitution of Seychelles – makes a strong commitment and a promise to all our children that they will do their best to protect their rights, so that they stay safe, develop, learn and fulfil their potential.

Conversations about the constitution are highly essential and needed. Matters and decisions that affect children must include children’s views. Our children have shown us today that they are intelligent, confident and very vocal. The Constitution is not just a document that exists on paper; it is a living and guiding point of reference that upholds the law.

Today, you as children had questions about the laws that uphold the Constitution. You asked about health, education, family life, safety, bullying, your protection, a good standard of living, diversity, discrimination and your right to be protected from abuse and harm.

You received some answers, but there are many more questions that you and other children have, and you need many more answers. On your behalf, I wish to say that I hope that today is just the beginning for this kind of dialogue. Your voice matters. Every child matters.

I wish to thank our panellists who engaged with our children on a level that is meaningful. You helped to make a massive difference today.

Most of all, a huge thank you to you the children who researched your questions so well, asked them with confidence and spoke on behalf of all the children of Seychelles. Chapeau and well done to you!

-Thank you