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JFJ wary of Gov't promise to amend Child Care Act

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

Sunday, December 08, 2013    

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HUMAN rights advocacy group Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) is far from impressed with a recent announcement by Youth Minister Lisa Hanna that Cabinet will soon pass legislation to amend the Child Care and Protection Act to bar any magistrate from deeming a child uncontrollable and ordered locked away in the care of the State.

The announcement was made weeks after the Sunday Observer highlighted the horrors faced by a 14-year-old girl who ran away from home for two days and was thrown into the Fort Augusta adult prison and New Horizon Remand Centre for one year before a JFJ-appointed lawyer made representation on her behalf and she was released.

Speaking at the Sunday Observer Press Club on Wednesday, JFJ director Alexis Goffe implored the government to take it a step further and review all the cases of children who have been deemed uncontrollable and are being detained until they reach 18, with a view to taking them out of prison.

"The majority of children who are in the prisons and in lock-ups are there for being uncontrollable, which is not an offence to be criminalised by passing the Child Care and Protection Act. Children who display behavioural challenges or have disobeyed rules at home or have been traumatised, that our response has been to incarcerate them is deeply troubling," he said.

Goffe said that the JFJ had contacted the International Council for Human Rights to seek a review of the cases of the children who have been locked up under a correctional order for being uncontrollable with a view of achieving their freedom.

"They should not be there in the first place, so yes, we are concerned. The last time we checked, 40 per cent of the children in correctional facilities are there for being uncontrollable. It's about 70 per cent of the girls and 50 per cent of the boys," he said.

Goffe said that it was the steadfast intention of the JFJ to not only get the Government to speed up the amendment of the act, but to get the children out and provide them with the necessary resources that they need to help them lead normal lives.

When contacted by the Sunday Observer, Hanna said that the ministries of Youth and Culture, Justice, and National Security were working in tandem, and speedily, to ensure that the framework for the legislation is tabled in Parliament quickly.

"We are looking at the Australian model. They are working with us to develop the model we intend to use. We expect to complete the groundwork and make a submission to Parliament by early January," Hanna said.

Hanna said that the practice of summarily incarcerating children at a judge's discretion, was a breach of local and international laws.

The Child Care and Protection Act does not state that a child who is deemed uncontrollable should be condemned to State care.

Hanna also said that the State had taken the pre-emptive move of reviewing the cases of juveniles who are now in the care of the State and were deemed to be uncontrollable.

"We have removed 60 of them from State care this year alone and we are reviewing more cases," she said.

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