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Reposition and empower Jamaica's wards

Monday, February 24, 2014    

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THE UWILEADS Social Justice and Change programme writes in response to the news article titled 'Tired of being raped', published in the Sunday Observer of February 16, 2014.

Within the detailed news article there are so many issues and concerns which we could write about, but we have chosen to step aside from the rest of the pack who have written about this young man in pity and blamed the Child Development Agency for its terrible job in ensuring the safety of wards in State care. What we have chosen to write about is the repositioning and empowerment of wards of the State.

The article explicitly informed us of the young lad's desire to enter school, in particular one of the traditional schools in the Corporate Area — Calabar High School — and to further move on with ambitions to become a doctor, to help people and make money. We acknowledge and celebrate this desire that he continues to hold on to in spite of his harsh experiences that would otherwise break so many others. The many untold stories like this, indicate that children in State care are continually disadvantaged and victimised by not only fellow wards, warders and caretakers, but also by the structures that have been created for their care. These are not only the underfunded, dilapidated, or derelict, but, more so they are non-reformative, non re-integrative and non-supportive. It is through these structures that inefficiency and unaccountability thrive, further victimising the wards.

We call for the repositioning of wards. By repositioning we mean that greater attention is given to the development -- physical, social, psychological, emotional aspects of these children in the care of the State. To set priority to these issues will begin a whole slew of ramifications for those still in the system, those coming to the system, and remove the negative attention and image of ineptitude that plague these facilities.

Regarding empowerment of wards there is much to be done. The World Bank states that empowerment is the process of increasing the capacity of individuals or groups to make choices and to transform those choices into desired actions and outcomes. This is clearly contrary to what State facilities are presently doing based on incidents like those reported in the article. The cry for empowerment is obvious, demonstrated in the desire this lad has to go to school.

We do know that education is one of the greatest mechanisms of empowerment. We as university students are a testament to that fact, being possibly the most empowered group in the Jamaican society. Education has provided the capacity to make decisions to transform choices into desired outcomes. The empowerment of wards must be done through the access to mandatory education. Education will provide certification and qualification for these wards to access employment, enter tertiary institutions and other contributing fields of society that need their skills. This should lead to better life choices and greater outcomes for these individuals.

With this repositioning and empowerment through education it should not be difficult for these youth to make a smooth transition into adulthood. There are cases of wards who, upon their release from State facilities at the age of 18, join gangs or become dependent on men or prostitution for support.

Empowered people make decisions that improve the conditions for their future. Let us start enabling Jamaica's wards to make better decisions. This repositioning and empowering can only come about if first all the relevant organisations (CDA, OCR, CISOCA, the Adoption Board, etc) recognise seriously that more needs to be done, and that the overall way in which they operate must be revisited.

The first step in repositioning and empowering Jamaica's wards must be taken by the Ministry of Youth and Culture. An apology must be submitted to the wards of this country — past and present — on behalf of all Jamaicans for the ill-treatment and marginalisation faced as a result of structural inefficiencies. After such a symbolic gesture, the next task is for all stakeholders to participate in the conversation on how Jamaica moves forward.

The piece is authored by The UWILEADS.

Comments: theuwileads@gmail.com

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