Hanna faces the heat in Sectoral Debate today

BY BALFORD HENRY Senior staff reporter

Tuesday, May 20, 2014    

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YOUTH and Culture Minister Lisa Hanna faces a number of issues when she speaks in the sectoral debate, which continues in the House of Representatives, today.

Hanna is scheduled to speak just ahead of Opposition spokesman on national security Derrick Smith, who will respond to National Security Minister Peter Bunting's presentation last week.

It should be another very interesting day's proceedings in the annual debate, which involves ministers who did not speak in last month's budget debate.

Chief among the issues which have been raised in anticipation of Hanna's presentation today are four questions posed -- in a statement issued yesterday — by the local human rights group, Jamaicans For Justice (JFJ) concerning the status of children who are in the care and protection of the Government.

It is the second consecutive week that JFJ has raised questions on the eve of a minister's presentation, as last week the organisation raised several questions for Buntng to answer. Most of them, however, have received no response.

According to the JFJ release, today's contribution by Hanna, "provides an important opportunity to report on the result of Government action to improve the welfare of Jamaica's children and on policies to be implemented during the upcoming year".

"The impact of these measures on Jamaica's children is of utmost importance. Jamaicans For Justice has long-standing, ongoing concerns regarding the situation facing some of Jamaica's most vulnerable children and looks forward to the update the minister will provide," it added.

JFJ then proceeded to ask four questions of the minister:

"(1) What is the status of the Child Care and Protection Act review?

"There is urgent need for amendments to this legislation to ensure improved care and protection of Jamaica's children. Therefore, the minister is obliged to give an update on the current state of the review process and timeline by which the draft amendments will be brought to Parliament and subjected to consultation and debate, and ultimately passed.

"(2) When will the management and process audit findings of the Child Development Agency (CDA) and the operational audit findings of the nation's children's homes be released?

"In 2013, Minister Hanna commissioned a management and process audit of the CDA and a "thorough operational audit" of all children's homes -- private and public. When will the findings of these audits be released?

"JFJ added that it is essential that the government agency responsible for the welfare of Jamaica's children, the CDA, is held to public account, and facilities providing direct care and protection for children operate at required standards.

"Information on CDA's capacity and resource gaps demand a full airing of the audit results. Recent stories of physical and sexual abuse within children's homes heighten the urgency with which these audits must be presented.

"(3) What progress, if any, has been made on the minister's commitment on compliance with international and local obligations by the end of 2014?

"In 2013, Minister Hanna committed that by the end of 2014 Jamaica will be in full compliance with international obligations regarding the protection of rights and treatment of children. Therefore, the minister is duty bound to provide the nation with an update on the status of this commitment; providing specific details on what measures have been taken and how these bring Jamaica into compliance.

"The minister's update is to include information on outstanding areas of government non-compliance and an action plan to secure full compliance by December 31, 2014.

"(4) What is the status of Minister Hanna's commitment on actions to be taken insofar as children who are labelled "beyond control"?

"In 2013 Minister Hanna promised that by the end of that year the Child Care and Protection Act would have been amended to eliminate incarceration as an option for children labelled "uncontrollable". This has not happened, though policy directives have resulted in a reduced number of these children placed in correctional and remand facilities.

"Though commendable, policy directives are discretionary and insufficient. Therefore, the minister is obliged to take legislative action on this issue as she promised a year ago. Further, the minister is to indicate the additional support services that have been and will be provided for this vulnerable population of children within families and in State care, as strategies to provide care and protection for children outside of institutional settings require substantial resources," JFJ said.

Prior to last Tuesday's contribution by Minister Bunting, JFJ also issued a release asking the minister to respond to a list of issues it considers paramount, including:

(1) Measures to hold the commissioner of police and his divisional commanders accountable for the number of police fatal shootings, as there were 255 police fatal shootings in 2013, 20 more than in 2012; (2) How he intends to support the strengthening of the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) to improve accountability in the police force; (3) The issue of children in police lock-ups; (4) The timeline to review the Corrections Act to strengthen the protection of the rights of children in lock-ups; and (5) Whether the Horizon Remand Centre and the Fort Augusta Correctional facilities will be de-gazetted as institutions to hold children.



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