MAY is recognised as Child’s Month and this year the National Child Month Committee will celebrate under the theme ‘Jamaica 50: Let’s Celebrate Our Children’.
Approximately 25 organisations will be on the committee responsible for planning and organising the month’s activities, and we have been told that although most activities are scheduled for May the committee will be planning programmes up to November.
To mark the beginning of the month, TEENage has compiled some important facts to help you better understand the laws, rights and responsibilities related to the care and protection of our nation’s children.
The Child Care and Protection Act (CCPA)
In Jamaica, there is an Act that governs the care and protection of every Jamaican child. In May 1991, Jamaica ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child. This was the first tool that incorporated the complete range of international human rights and divided it into four areas — guiding principles, survival and development rights, protection rights and participation rights.
From this, the Child Care and Protection Act was developed in 2004. According to the Child Development Agency, this Act serves to ensure that "adults consider the views and best interests of the children and to prevent children from being abused or neglected".
The Act also focuses on the responsibilities of parents, the community, the media, the police and government-affiliated organisations like the Office of the Children's Advocate and the Child Development Agency that make provisions for children.
The Child Development Agency (CDA)
The Child Development Agency is the government agency responsible for our children. It is located at 48 Duke Street in Downtown, Kingston and became an executive agency on June 1, 2004.
Comprising of three units — The Children Services Division, The Adoption Board and The Child Support Unit; the agency offers several child protection services such as case management and planning for the children's court, the intake of children in need of care and protection, foster care and adoption, the investigation of reports referred by the Children's Registry and counselling. They cater for children and their parents, particularly children who have been neglected, abused or abandoned and their mission is to provide care and protection to the nation's children through love, advocacy, education, rehabilitation and family support.
The Office of the Children's Registry (OCR)
The Office of the Children's Registry is located at 12 Carlton Crescent, Kingston 2. This office works closely with the Child Development Agency and seeks to establish other groups like itself in the Caribbean.
This office is the main organisation to receive reports of child abuse and has the responsibility to receive, assess and record reports of children who have been abused or mistreated in one way or another and are in need of care and protection.
All cases reported to them are to be kept confidential and if necessary they are expected to refer reports to the Child Development Agency or the Office of the Children's Advocate for investigation.
At the OCR there is a wealth of information including statistics relating to Child Abuse, as well as guidelines on how to deal with child abuse and related issues.
The Children's Advocate
The Children's Advocate is established to protect and enforce the rights of children and promoting their well-being and welfare. They are responsible for legally representing children in court, and intervening in court or tribunal proceedings when there is a concern regarding the best interest of the child.
They are also responsible for reviewing laws and practices, and consulting with the appropriate bodies as it relates to the child's rights and best interest.
In addition to these, the Children's Advocate is responsible for investigating complaints made by or on behalf of a child whose rights have been infringed or his/her best interest adversely affected because of the actions of a relevant authority (including government organisations, statutory bodies or a parish council).
The Children's Advocate is also responsible for the maintenance of proper records of complaints, as well as making periodic reports to parliament and giving advice to ministers and officials.
The Children's Court
The Children's Court is located within the same building as the Family Court at 55A Duke Street in Kingston. Overall, the court is expected to explain situations to the child in simple language that he/she will understand so as to hear the child's story and to gather additional information. They refer cases to the Children's Advocate or to another legal representative if necessary, and deals with various proceedings including children who are victims, witnesses in need of care and protection, as well as cases where the child has committed a crime.
During court proceedings, the Children's Advocate and the child's parent, guardian or fit person is present. In some cases a representative from the Child Development Agency, the Centre for the Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse (CISOCA), or the Children's Registry would also be present. The court aims to protect the child and to find the safest and best fit solution for each individual case and may decide that removal from the environment, counselling, curfews, or otherwise is in the best interest of the child.
Responsibilities of parents and the community
As a parent, there are a number of responsibilities that relates to the care and protection of children. A child must be nurtured, cared for and protected by his/her family, guardian or fit person.
Parents should provide children with food, clothing, shelter and proper health care, providing an education once they are between four and 16 years old, providing maintenance or financial support and protecting children from harm or abuse.
Under the Act, parent and members of a community, are to ensure that children are protected from harm, and not involved in hazardous activities or child labour. If a person recognises signs of neglect, child labour, it must be reported or they can be fined or imprisoned.
Did you know?
* A child is a person under the age of 18, unless stated otherwise by the law.
* The age of consent for a child to be engaged in any form of sexual activities is 16.
* A child will not be held responsible for a crime unless over the age of 12.
* A fit person is someone the court chooses to act as a parent or guardian for a child whose parent or guardian is not in a position to take care of the child. If there is no fit person the child is put in state care.
* Children in state care are those who live in a children's home or a place of safety.
* You can be charged for not reporting a case of child abuse to the OCR, and will face a $500,000 fine or six months in prison, or both.
* You can be fined $250,000 or given three months imprisonment for making a false report.
* For the OCR, failure to refer or investigate a case of child abuse without a good reason carries a penalty of $250,000 or three months in prison.
* It is considered child labour if the child is younger than 13, and the penalty is a fine of $500,000 and/or imprisonment for six months along with hard labour.
* Children under 15 years should not be involved in hazardous activities, night work (10:00 pm- 5:00 am) or industrial labour.
How do you know if a child is in need of care and protection?
The Child Development Agency recommends that you look out for "a child who has no parent or guardian, a child who is exposed to moral danger or bad company, a child whose mental or physical health is in danger, a child who is destitute or living in extreme poverty and child who is living, wandering or begging on the streets".
Failure to comply to the law under this act can result in serious penalties so do your part in ensuring that our children and protected and cared for. For help and more information, contact:
— Children's Registry (1-888-PROTECT)
— Children's Advocate
— Child Development Agency