Hanna slaps JFJ - Rights group stands ground on juvenile detention

Hanna slaps JFJ - Rights group stands ground on juvenile detention

Hanna: Juvenile detention petition malicious

BY KARYL WALKER Editor Crime/Court Desk walkerk@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, July 18, 2013

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DESPITE loud protests by Minister of Youth and Culture Lisa Hanna and Security Minister Peter Bunting, human rights group Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) yesterday stood firm behind its position that the Government is negligent on the issue of juveniles in detention.

The JFJ has launched an online petition calling on the State to take immediate action to 'Lift Up, Not Lock Up Jamaica's Children'.

"The stories of abuse and neglect of children in both children's homes and detention centres are too common. We are distressed that the children who are in the greatest need of care and support are getting the least of it," the petition states.

The JFJ wants, among other things, the removal of children from the Fort Augusta Adult Correctional Centre and police lock-ups and the designation of Uncontrollable Child from the legislation as a reason to lock up a child.

Additionally, the group has called for a revision of the Child Care and Protection Act and the Corrections Act, and the creation of smaller rehabilitative centres for children.

But at yesterday's post-Cabinet press briefing at Jamaica House in Kingston, Hanna dubbed the move by JFJ as malicious, factually incorrect, intel-lectually dishonest and over-sensationalised.

She said JFJ was invited by the Government to take part in a children support task force of volunteers, but opted out of that invitation and instead chose a combative stance which would only serve in derailing the efforts being made to improve the lot of children in State care.

Some 148 children have been removed from police jails between January last year and May this year.

She said all juveniles have already been removed from the New Horizon Remand Centre, and that all female juveniles will be removed and placed into a new facility by year end.

"The many positive actions taken by the Administration to improve the care and protection of children in Jamaica, especially those in State care, have been ignored and the Government characterised as abusing children in Jamaica. This tactic by the JFJ is disingenuous, dishonest, dangerous and clearly designed to damage the reputation of the country," Hanna said.

Bunting supported Hanna's claim.

"In my opinion no previous Administration has taken the proactive and serious actions to improve the situation of children under State care," he said. But, despite their protests, JFJ Carolyn Gomes was defiant.

"We, the JFJ, stand by our position. We are very disappointed in the stance taken by Miss Hanna. I think it was very dishonest on her part. There is not one thing called for in that petition that has already been done. Promises have been made before. The point of this petition is to give Jamaicans and people overseas a chance to tell the Government of Jamaica that these conditions can't continue and must be dealt with now," Gomes said.

Meanwhile, JFJ Chairman Susan Goffe was unfazed by Hanna claim that the petition was doing untold damage to the country's image and said the children's rights were most important.

"What we need to understand is that it is more important to protect the well-being and the rights of the Jamaican children than it is to protect the reputation of adults. It is not unusual in for Governments who feel their failings have been brought to light and been the focus of attention to react in this way," said Goffe.

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