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Vulnerable groups in our society

CBS-bulliesEach society has the obligation to take care of vulnerable groups living in its community. One may think firstly of children, because of their dependence upon adults to survive, their vulnerability to physical and psychological trauma, and the developmental needs that must be met to ensure normal growth and development.

Stripped of financial security, the unemployed, and even to some extent the elderly and disabled persons are also a particularly vulnerable group. They are often excluded from the decision-making relating to their own life, family and home, therefore cannot ensure their rights are respected.

There is no universal definition of what vulnerable groups in society are. In our opinion, the following definition from the Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion DG from the European Commission best suits this purpose: ‘Groups that experience a higher risk of poverty and social exclusion than the general population. Ethnic minorities, migrants, disabled persons, the homeless, those struggling with substance abuse, isolated elderly people and children all face difficulties that can lead to further social exclusion, such as low levels of education and unemployment or underemployment’. The Central Bureau of Statistics published recently a paper which describes some vulnerable groups in general society. In this article three vulnerable groups are highlighted.

Unintended pregnancy and childbirth at a very young age is linked to a number of health and mortality risks for both mother and child. For instance, the infant mortality rate of teenage mothers (9.78 per thousand) is much higher than the overall infant mortality rate (6.68 per thousand). Also, fetal mortality (20 weeks of gestation or more) in the US is significantly higher for teenage girls than for the population as a whole. It is often heard that teenage pregnancy on Aruba is on the rise. However, our data show that this is certainly not the case: currently the age-specific fertility rate for girls 15 - 19 years of age stands at 40.6 per thousand, against 50.8 per thousand in 2000 and 57.1 in 1991.

With its adolescent fertility rate of 40.6 per thousand, Aruba scores lower than most other countries in the Caribbean. Bermuda is the country with the lowest level of teenage fertility in the region. In 2008, only 16 births per 1000 young women below age 20 were counted in Bermuda. Most countries in South America have considerably higher rates of adolescent fertility than Aruba. However, compared to the Netherlands and most other countries in Europe, Aruba scores below par. Teenage fertility on Aruba is more than 7 times higher than in the Netherlands.

CBS-pic1 fertility

Next to its effect on the health of mother and child, motherhood at a very young age can have an effect on other aspects of the young mother’s life. The population census provides some data to glimpse into the consequences of adolescent childhood on later life. A question was included in the census at what age a woman had her first child. The figure below shows the percentage of women at the population census, by current age-group, who did or did not have a child before age 20, and whether they obtained a diploma after primary school or not.

There is a clear gap in educational attainment at all ages between women who had their child before and after age 20. The percentage difference between both groups is more than twenty percent for all age categories (with the exception of age-group 15-19 years of age). This shows the difficulties of young mothers to continue with their education once they have given birth to a child.


During the 2010 Census a total of 219 teenage mothers (6.2% of all girls aged 15-19 years) were counted, who mothered 250 children. Nearly three quarters of teenage mothers were either 18 or 19 years old. More than 75 percent of all teenage mothers (irrespective of age) were born in Aruba and had the Dutch nationality.

In total, 53 percent of teenage mothers indicated that they were attending school. About 86 percent reported being full time students of which 6.5 percent indicated being unemployed.

Fourteen percent combined their studies with a job. Of the 116 school attending teenage mothers, 31.7 percent were MAVO students, 30.8 percent EPB students and 15.9 percent EPI students. Of those who were not attending school, 66.3 percent indicated having completed only primary education, about 23 percent had obtained at least a MAVO diploma and 3.2 percent indicated having less than primary education.

Providing a child with the means to have an education is an essential part of giving a child the best possible start in life. Children who do not attend school, or who do not attend school on a regular basis, face enormous disadvantages later in life.

In general, most children between ages 4 and 17 years were enrolled in school. Between the ages of 4 and 17 years a total of 20,054 school attending children were counted against 524 children (2.5 percent) who were not attending school. The figure below shows that at age 16 and 17, a significant number of children no longer attended school. Of young adolescents 16 and 17 years of age, 5.0 percent and 11.7 percent, respectively were not in school. In comparison, the percentage of children out of school between ages 5 and 14 years was well below 2 percent.


When looking at the number of children who were not attending school, one should keep in mind that a small number of children are not able to attend school, because of serious physical or mental disabilities. The percentage of children with a disability among children who did not attend school (11.2 percent) was considerably higher than the percentage of children with a disability (2.2 percent) among all children. It is obvious that having a disability is a reason for not attending school. However, Census data also shows that the large majority of children (84.8 percent) with a disability were attending school. Next to disabilit, there are some other factors that have an effect on whether children stay out of school. Place of birth of the child plays an important role in this.


A considerably high proportion of foreign born children are found among the group of children not attending school. Among all children who did not go to school, 31.6 of boys and 30.4 percent of girls were foreign born. This is almost twice as high as among all children in age group 4-17 years.

At the time of the Census in September 2010, Aruba witnessed unemployment of 10.6 percent. Unemployment for males was slightly higher (10.8 percent) than for females (10.4 percent). Unemployment struck the younger people much harder than persons at a more advanced age.

To compare unemployment for youngsters with unemployment among the adult population, we calculated the unemployment rate for males and females under and above age 25 years. The unemployment rate for persons under age 25 years was 29.9 percent for males and 27.5 percent for females. The unemployment rate for persons older than 25 years was respectively 8.6 and 9.0 for males and females. In other words, on Aruba unemployment for persons below 25 years was almost three times as high as among persons above 25 years. Although the percentage of persons in the labor market in the age group below 25 years was only 9 percent, they constituted 24.4 percent of all the unemployed on the island.

For policy making it is important to know the social composition of the young unemployed. The graph shows a very strong correlation between the level of education obtained and the unemployment rates. Those who were economically active and who had no diploma or a diploma of only primary education had unemployment rates of well above thirty percent. They were clearly at a disadvantage compared to those who had successfully completed at least some further education.


Students with a lower vocational diploma (EPB) already had a better chance to find employment, but still faced somewhat more difficulties than those with a MAVO or HAVO diploma. Young people who finished a vocational education at the intermediate level (MBO) had the lowest unemployment (9.7 percent for both sexes together). Persons with a higher educational attainment faced higher unemployment rates.

Martijn Balkestein & Monique Plaza-Maduro, CBS

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