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Jamaican Government is ‘lifting up’ children through positive action

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Wednesday, June 17, 2013:  The Government of Jamaica has refuted a characterization by a civil society group of its actions to improve the situation of children who come in contact with the justice system as being “abuse of Jamaica’s children”.

The Government’s statement setting the record straight on its provision of care and protection for children especially those who come in contact with the justice system, was delivered at a Post Cabinet press briefing at Jamaica House on Wednesday, July 17 by the Minister of Youth and Culture,  Lisa Hanna with support from the Minister of National Security Hon. Peter Bunting.

The false characterisation of the actions of the Government is contained in an online video and written material posting by the group, Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ), which has used the material to support a worldwide public petition campaign started a few days ago. The material uses unfortunate events which were alleged to have taken place as far back as in 2009 to represent the actions of the current Government which took office in January 2012.

“The tactic by JFJ is disingenuous, dishonest, dangerous and clearly designed to damage the reputation of the country,” the Government’s statement delivered by Minister Hanna said.

The Minister pointed out that the petition does not take into account the actions already taken by the Government over the past 18 months and those currently being pursued to address the multi-dimensional issues facing children in Jamaica, particularly those who come in contact with the justice system. Outlining some of the many positive actions taken by the current Administration, and which were already in train before the start of the JFJ’s international petition on July 12, Minister Hanna said all juveniles have already been removed from the Horizon Remand Centre.

She restated the Government ongoing effort to ensure that juvenile girls remanded by the Court to the Fort Augusta Correctional Centre, which now houses both adults and juvenile females, are relocated to the South Camp Road centre which is now being refurbished with a facility exclusively for girls. Minister Bunting said the work on the facility is ahead of schedule and it will be ready to accommodate the girls earlier than originally announced, that is, by September this year instead of December as announced in May this year.

 The Youth Minister explained that children are remanded to juvenile correctional centres or other remand centres by Judges of the Court and can only be removed by new Orders of the Court or upon the expiration of the existing order. The Youth Minister added however, that on her instructions, the Child Development Agency has assigned case workers to track the cases of children in juvenile correctional centres and where appropriate, to have their cases reviewed by the Court. A total of 148 children in police custody were also removed to be cared for in children’s homes between January 2012 and May 2013 after they were assessed as being in need of care and protection as prescribed by the Child Care and Protection Act.

“The commitment has been given since June this year by the Government, through the Minister of Youth and Culture, that by the end of next year, systems and facilities will be in place to ensure that children who come in contact with the police spend no more than 48 hours at police stations and instead spend as little time there as possible. Work will start in August 2013 to provide suitable child-friendly areas at select police stations across Jamaica where children who must be brought there will not come in contact with adult detainees,” the government’s statement said.

At the same time Minister Hanna reported that the decision by the Government to change the law to remove the designation of “uncontrollable children” and therefore, prevent children with behavioural problems from being committed to the correctional system, was made before the start of the petition. So too has been the Government’s publicly stated decision to revise the Child Care and Protection Act, complete the full implementation of the 2003 Keating Report, improve conditions in juvenile correctional centres, invest in the training of staff in children’s homes and end the practice of “lockdowns” for children in correctional centres.

The Minister said the Ministry of Youth and Culture and other Government and non-Government partners are also organising parenting workshops to promote proper parenting, which must form part of the sustainable national response to the issues affecting children as  parental neglect is the number one form of child abuse. 

“We have no problem with petitions and welcome them as part of the vibrant democracy which the Government supports and encourages. We however, do not condone the public promotion of information that is incorrect, malicious and designed to unfairly hurt Jamaica’s human rights record locally and internationally,” she reiterated.

The Youth Minister informed that Jamaicans for Justice was invited by the Government to participate within a broad-based Children Support Taskforce of Volunteers, but they opted to withdraw from the Group.

“The time has come in Jamaica for us to join hands and build up rather than pursue a tear down philosophy that is usually guided by self interest. We would welcome all groups   who wish to assist us in lifting up our children by raising the necessary funds, providing the necessary counseling and support, or providing training opportunity for our children in state care. It is always easier to criticize the problem than being part of the solution,” the Government’s statement said.