JFJ takes children's case to IACHR

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

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

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HUMAN rights group Jamaicans For Justice (JFJ) has filed a request for precautionary measures to the Inter-American Council for Human Rights (IACHR) on behalf of female minors deemed 'uncontrollable' and who have been remanded to state care.


The revelation was made by Susan Goffe of the JFJ's Child Rights Working Group during a press conference at the group's Fagan Avenue headquarters in Kingston yesterday.


"This group of children is not an insignificant one. At any given point, 'uncontrollable' girls comprise over 60 per cent of female minors detained to state custody. We have determined that in too many cases, the conditions that these children are exposed to place them at serious risk of psychological, emotional and physical harm, and are in many cases tantamount to outright abuse," Goffe said.


She said the JFJ had conducted private interviews with wards of the state and had obtained public records which revealed that children have been subjected to systemic abuse, infringement of rights and neglect within state facilities.


The JFJ is seeking to have the IACHR — of which Jamaica is a member state — order that all female minors be removed from adult penal facilities to more appropriate facilities for juveniles; the separation of the girls in state custody by their legal status, age, criminal record, and any medical or psychological needs; the immediate review of all cases of minor girls held in custody without criminal charge; and the establishment of a juvenile correctional facility for girls, among other things.


A minor can only be placed in state care by order of a magistrate after the child has been brought to court by their parents.


However, the JFJ revealed yesterday that many of the children have been committed to state care, including at the high security adult Fort Augusta prison in St Catherine and the New Horizon Remand Centre in Kingston, without being brought to court by their parents.


Executive director of JFJ Dr Carolyn Gomes cited the case of a female minor who was taken by cops from the Flying Squad straight to the Fort Augusta prison after she was found in a house with men of questionable character during an operation.


The child, she said, spent 60 days in the facility without being so ordered by a magistrate. Gomes questioned how the Department of Correctional Services had accepted the child in their custody without a court order.


Goffe was also critical of the Child Development Agency (CDA) — an arm of the Ministry of Youth and Culture with a primary mandate of providing support for children who have been abused, abandoned, neglected or vulnerable due to disability.


"Many of the girls deemed uncontrollable are presented before the court without legal council, which is problematic from both a legal and a human rights standpoint. Furthermore, there have been instances in which the CDA has taken a child into custody despite its insistence that only parents have the legal authority to bring a child before the court for uncontrollable behaviour," Goffe said.


On Monday, a committee comprising technical teams from the ministries of national security, youth and culture, and justice announced that the state would be spending $75 million to retrofit five police stations to house juvenile offenders.


However, the JFJ has lambasted the announcement and described the move as a public relations smokescreen.


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