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Child Diversion Act to be enforceable next year

Senior staff reporter

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

JUSTICE Minister Delroy Chuck has assured that the Child Diversion Act, which was passed in 2018 to reroute children from the formal justice system — preventing them from being treated as hardened criminals — is to be gazetted so its provisions can be enforced as of early 2020.

“I must admit, in 2011 (before the Jamaica Labour Party lost state power) I started to look at child diversion and when I came back in 2016 (after the party won the general elections), I asked where is child diversion but, regrettably, not much was done,” Chuck told the audience yesterday during the observation of Human Rights Day 2019, under the theme 'Youth Standing up for Human Rights', at Jamaica Conference Centre in downtown Kingston.

“We did, in 2018, enact legislation and we have sensitised right across the parishes [on] the importance of getting our children out of the formal court system, and, hopefully, guide, support and impress on them the importance of not engaging in wrongdoing. I have participated in that charge. We have sensitised thousands of Justices of the Peace and stakeholders, and only last week I signed the legislation for it to be gazetted so that it can come into action as early as possible next year,” the justice minister told the gathering, which included several representatives of the United Nations and the European Union, as well as students.

He said the child diversion programme, which is to accompany the roll-out of the Act, is to ensure that “when children engage in any form of wrongdoing, the opportunity will be afforded them to be counselled, guided, mentored, and to hopefully go on the straight and narrow path”.

“My hope is that we can keep out all or most of our children out of the formal court system,” he said.

Chuck added that facilities that care for children deemed “unruly”, whose parents find it extremely difficult to control them, will be placed under the microscope to ensure “that they get the best care and, hopefully, do not spend more time than is necessary for them to really get back into the family and get back on the path of normal behaviour”.

The justice minister's comments come in the wake of agitation by watchdog group Jamaicans for Justice for a remedy to the Child Care and Protection Act, to prevent judges from being able to prescribe prison time for children who have not committed crimes but who have been hauled before the courts because they were deemed “uncontrollable”.

Yesterday, addressing the issue, Chuck said: “I gave the commitment to take it to Cabinet as soon as possible so that that piece of legislation, which to my mind is unconstitutional, can be removed. So I gave that commitment. It must get not only to Cabinet, but also to Parliament, so that the Parliament can repeal this piece of legislation.”

“Indeed, it is inconsistent with what we are promoting at the ministry, which is child diversion,” he told the group.

Child diversion deals with the introduction of methods outside formal court proceedings, to help children who are deemed to have broken laws.

It aims to lessen the number of children charged with offences and increase the use of rehabilitative programmes, and mandate State agencies, among other interest groups, to actively provide services and programmes to children, protect the rights of the child in keeping with international instruments and protocols, and empower communities to take a more active role in managing child offenders with disruptive tendencies.