Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
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Located in the Caribbean, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines comprises 33 islands. The country has transitioned from a European settlement where African slaves worked on plantations, to a British colony, to finally becoming a fully independent Commonwealth Member State. Among the more serious human rights issues facing children are those relating to the justice system, notably the minimum age of criminal responsibility is set at eight years. Other challenges include early marriage and a high rate of teenage pregnancy.
St Vincent and the Grenadines is made up of 33 islands, St Vincent, which covers around 85 per cent of the country's territory, alongside the Grenadines island chain that runs from the south of St Vincent to Grenada. St Vincent is a verdant volcanic island with rich and productive soil, while the Grenadines are coral islands with tropical white sandy beaches. Fewer than a dozen of the Greanadine islands are populated. The capital city is Kingstown.
Population and language
St Vincent and the Grenadines are home to 109,400 people. This figure initially rose in the two decades after independence, but has reached a plateau since 2000 with only very minor fluctuations. Most Vincentians are the descendants of African slaves brought to the islands to work on the colonial era plantations, though there are sizeable communities of Europeans and mixed race peoples. English is almost universally spoken on the islands.
History and politics
It is estimated that Saint Vincent was first settled around 5000BC by the Ciboney people before the Arawaks and Caribs arrived on the islands prior to European settlement. Christopher Columbus was the first European to make contact with the island in 1498, though the native Caribs resisted European settlement for longer than many other Caribbean nations. The British claimed the islands in 1627, but it wasn't until the end of the 18th century that the French officially ceded their competing territorial claim. St Vincent and the Grenadines remained under British control until the Caribbean political reforms of the 1960s, in which the country initially gained self-government before attaining full independence as a member of the Commonwealth in 1979, under Prime Minister Milton Cato of the centre-left St Vincent Labour Party. The Constitution implemented a unicameral legislature that operates alongside a cabinet led by the Prime Minister. Queen Elizabeth is officially head of State, though represented by the Governor-General.
In post-independence politics, the country has had only four prime ministers: the government of Prime Minister Cato was defeated by the centre-right New Democratic Party under James Mitchell in 1984, whose government won four successive elections and retained power until 2001. Mitchell resigned in favour of his finance minister, Arniham Eustace prior to the 2001 elections, in which current Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves led the reformed United Labour Party to power. Gonsalves has won three successive elections, though most recently with the smallest possible majority of seats in the legislature. During his premiership, Gonsalves has urged further political integration with the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States and built international relationships with Cuba and Venezuela.
As has been the case of many Caribbean states with substantial banana exports, St Vincent has suffered from the erosion of preferential access to the EU in recent years, which has had a substantial negative impact on the national economy. The Fair Trade scheme has, however, created a niche market for the country's produce, particularly in the United Kingdom. As a result of the decline in agricultural exports, tourism has become more important for the national economy, though figures for tourists fell significantly as a result of the global economic crisis of 2008/9, and the lasting effects of that crisis. The country has a substantial level of public debt, which had reached a level of around 66.8 per cent of GDP as of 2008 and led the International Monetary Fund to conclude that the country was at a moderate risk of external debt distress in 2009. The government introduced a series of new taxes, including VAT and an excise tax in 2007 to improve public finances.
Media and civil society
Reporters Without Borders rated the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States, including Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, 25 out of 179 countries in its 2011/12 Press Freedom Index, a significant improvement on the previous year (54 out of 178). This rapid improvement was based on what RWB noted as “an almost total lack of acts of violence or serious breaches of freedom of information” in the region. The Constitution guarantees a free press, which is privately owned and openly critical of government policies. A national, partially government funded, radio service operates alongside several private radio stations.
Human rights and children's rights
Among the more serious human rights issues facing children in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines are those in relation to the justice system. The State has a very low age of criminal responsibility (8 years), maintains laws allowing for the use of corporal punishment as a judicial penalty for children, and allows for the possibility of life sentences for children.
- UNDESA, "Population Statistics 2011"
- Foreign and Commonwealth Office, "Saint VIncent and the Grenadines Country Profile"
- Caribbean 360, "St. Vincent celebrates 31st anniversary of independence" 27 October 2010
- NationNews.com, "ULP celebrates Gonsalves' election win" 14 December 2010
- The Guardian, "UK consumers go bananas for Fairtrade" 27 February 2012 and see the Fair Trade Foundation
- The Caribbean Tourist Organisation, "2010 country statistics and analyses"
- The International Monetary Fund, "St. Vincent and the Grenadines: External debt sustainability analysis" 1 May 2009
- Reporters Without Borders, "Press Freedom Index 2011/12"
- BBC, "St Vincent and the Grenadines Profile" 23 December 2011
- CRIN, "St VIncent and the Grenadines: Inhuman sentencing of children" 11 February 2010
- OHCHR, "St Vincent and the Grenadines Homepage"
- Foreign and Commonwealth Office, "St Vincent and the Grenadines Profile"
- BBC, "St Vincent and the Grenadines Profile" and "Timeline"
- Reporters Without Borders, "Press Freedom Index 2011/12"
- The Guardian (see footnotes)
- Various other news items (see footnotes)