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In search of justice for Jamaica's disabled children

By MAIA CHUNG Guest Columnist

Sunday, September 23, 2012    

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If a child's body prevents him from getting societal buy in, as well as the deployment of his constitutional rights to develop his mind, the nation of Jamaica must act.

The case of a teenaged student and his mother battling for the development of that boy's mind; which has proved strong and ready for molding, for potential nation-building, but is being hampered by his physical disability is sad and disheartening.

The case highlighted by the media, detailed a young wheelchair bound boy and his mother's struggles daily, for him to get transport for him to get to his school in the morning and get home in the evening.

The report said that each and every school day, the duo is mainly ignored by public passenger vehicles, particularly the cars that operate in that context, along the route which the boy must travel to get to and from school.

Why?

Because as soon as it is recognised that he is in a wheelchair he is driven past and ignored by drivers even when trying to stop a vehicle to go to school.

Now let the indictments lay where they may, the case is self explanatory to anyone reading this. And I have found babbling on about "woulda, coulda shoulda" - solves nothing like when you seek solutions and try to get change happening.

But let's "nutshell" it: It's not right. It should not occur. It indicates the failings at the state level, the citizen to citizen level, constitutional level and the beat goes on.

My take on the situation is: Let's move on to how to fix this dilemma which is a good illustration of what not to do when building a solid and successful democratic society.

This young man and his mother as taxpaying citizens (lest we forget once you pay GCT you paying taxes just buy a spice bun in any pharmacy) deserve the rights and services given to all Jamaicans, that's sorta moot. This boy at the very least is entitled to "what is on the books as the rights of the Jamaican citizen".

Now while not referencing the DISABLED child in any specific way that I have seen, (John Public if I am wrong let me know) the Child Care and Protection Act 2004, the document which governs the aforementioned states, "where there is a reference in this Act to the best interest of a child (read they are children even when DISABLED) the factors to be taken into a account in determining the child's best interest shall include:

·The safety of the child

·The child's physical and emotional needs and level of development

·The child's level of education and educational requirements

Now obviously the Act has other elements ... but for purposes of this piece, we have limited our scope to those cited - and look at those as the rights of focus for this piece and as the nucleus of the situation we are examining.

In addition the Act says: "this Act shall be interpreted and administered so that the best interest of the child is the paramount consideration and in accordance with the following principles ... children are entitled to be protected from abuse, neglect and harm or threat of harm..."

The ignoring of this young man constitutes neglect.

So I would hazhard to posit that the case of the wheelchair-bound little boy, sees our most current Child Care and Protection Act which should be our best practices map, to ensure our most precious and vulnerable citizens being treated the way a child should; being contravened all over the place.

So let's see if there are any solutions.

Jamaica has a Children's Advocate who under this Act can do certain things to right the wrongs against our nation's children, and to ensure when possible that our children receive our best , most excellent and loving focus.

Under the Act this child and his mother may seek the assistance of the Children's Advocate who, as specified by the Act may provide assistance to a child making a complaint to a relevant authority.

In this case I see the first point entry as the ministry of education (MOE) as well as the ministry of labour & social security (MLSS) where this family could start to have this situation addressed?

Once the family engages the powers of the advocate, the Act allows for the advocate to conduct an investigation into their complaint, especially as it relates to incidents where the child's rights may have been infringed by any action taken by a relevant authority.

Simply put, a disabled child cannot get public transportation to take him to school, is a case for the Child Advocate and the Act enables that Officer to assist the process financially, if it is proven that the persons seeking justice are unable to pay any attendant costs.

This little boy has this right, as stated in the Act, the Advocate is bound to settle or at least initiate help where "the child's interests have been adversely affected ..."

The MOE and MLSS for me are the first points of entry for this scenario, as they have jurisdiction over both education and the issues of the disabled.

A boy who has a great brain and can learn should be in school and this should be priority for both these ministries. His very disability should mean that we treat him so specially and gently and tenderly as any normal human response would dictate.

Starting with this intervention I hope that if the systems within either ministry are not configured to address this case, the agencies related to them ... may have the support needed to change this circumstance and I believe in the power of one.

Start with this case with this little boy and use the lessons learnt to make the thousands of other like him suffering the same fate, benefit from any paradigm that we can create to stop this from happening in a modern country in the year of our Lord 2012!

This case I hope will also provide many persons with new knowledge if they did not have it prior to this that having a problem and airing it in the media is not the end. There are actually processes that can garner solutions.

It is sad that not only incidents of the one referenced in this piece still occur here, against our children/disabled children; when there are ways, that we can at the very least try to get justice.

Instead what appears is a fatalistic acceptance that this is the nation's practices and what can we do? But get a few sympathetic responses, a day long worth of outcries and then punto finale. Hey presto problem highlighted, required outcry given and it seeps back into obscurity.

If we don't start using the mechanisms of justice, they will seize up people - they seem to have already.

The wonder of children is that you never know...this little boy could be the next Zuckerberg, Marcus Garvey, or the one who cures cancer or HIV/AIDS.

Maia Chung is a board member of the Jamaica Coalition of the Rights of the Child (JCRC) a watchdog agency geared to educating the public as to the rights of the Child as articulated by the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC). She can be contacted maiachungjcrc@gmail.com

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