Gov’t urged to state position on abortion, comprehensive sex education
THE Jamaica Coalition for a Healthy Society (JCHS) in the wake of last Thursday’s confirmation by Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Minister Senator Kamina Johnson Smith that Jamaica now intends to belatedly sign the new African Caribbean and Pacific (ACP)-European Union (EU) pact — the Samoa Agreement — is calling on the Government to clearly state its stance on controversial issues such as abortion, and comprehensive sexuality education.
The call comes on the heels of a statement issued by the ministry on Monday following its meeting last Thursday with various stakeholders, including the JCHS, at which the foreign affairs minister said “Jamaica is a dualist State and there is no international agreement which will ever supersede Jamaica’s Constitution”.
“Throughout the negotiation process there were ongoing consultations internally with the relevant ministries, departments and agencies, as well as with members of civil society, which ensured consideration was always given to Jamaica’s domestic legal framework to guarantee harmony with the international obligations outlined in the agreement,” explained Johnson Smith, while confirming Jamaica’s intent to sign the agreement.
The pact, which was signed on November 15 by several other ACP countries, is a new partnership agreement between the EU and 78 countries in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific which will frame relations between the signatories for the coming 20 years. The accord will provisionally enter into force on January 1, 2024 and replaces the Cotonou Agreement governing ACP/EU relations since 2000 and which will expire at the end of this year. The agreement has been hailed by the Government as the principal development framework through which Jamaica and other OACPS states have obtained grant funding from the EU since 2000. The EU has been and remains Jamaica’s largest multilateral grant donor under this and prior agreements, according to Johnson Smith. The JCHS has, however, said while it knows the financial gains derived from being party to various European Union (EU) pacts, the agreement will bind Jamaica to undefined human rights obligations tied to trade sanctions, reintroduce comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) into schools despite parents’ outrage in 2012 with regard to CSE’s sexualising content; trap the nation in yet-to-be-negotiated international instruments, and demand the acceptance of terms that directly threaten citizens’ freedom of conscience and speech among other alarming concerns”.
However, the foreign affairs minister, in a statement issued Monday, emphasised the significant overlap with the provisions of the Cotonou Agreement which has guided Jamaica’s engagement with the European Union (EU) for the past 22 years, which she said has not affected the island’s laws, changed cultural norms, or been based on a relationship of subservience.
“Jamaica’s partnership with the EU remains an important pillar of its foreign and development policy and its engagement in this framework is based on shared objectives and principles. For more than four decades, under the varying frameworks, the EU has supported Jamaica’s economic growth and development and resilience-building initiatives, through intervention programmes in key areas including health, agriculture, environment and climate change, citizen security and justice reform and more recently, digital transformation. These programmes have made a qualitative difference to the lives of many Jamaicans, including vulnerable groups such as people with disabilities, women and youth,” said Johnson Smith.
She said “that misinformation could sadly be perpetuated” because it was not difficult, whether intentionally or unintentionally, to misunderstand single words and phrases pulled out of context in the agreement, nor to apply speculative interpretations without considering its 403 pages and 285 articles. She added that the articles must also be interpreted within the context of an entire body of international and domestic law, while considerations be given to other related reservations which Jamaica would have entered in international fora years ago”.
On Tuesday, head of the JCHS Dr Wayne West said the entity was unmoved by those arguments.
“We are not satisfied; we believe that those threats exist in the document because of the words and the phrases that are used which are known to be controversial and we are also aware that the EU has indicated that its intention is to put those types of considerations in all their arrangements with other countries; they have specifically said so,” he told the Jamaica Observer.
“We think that Jamaican people would be best served by the Government making a public statement about how it interprets these phrases. They are refusing to do so. I do not see why they are refusing to do so if they are convinced that they have mechanisms to protect the Jamaican people. So we are not at all impressed,” Dr West said.
“The Government of Jamaica must not accept that these terms mean what the EU wants them to mean. They must make a public declaration on it. All we are asking, for example, is that the Government of Jamaica state that it does not interpret reproductive health and rights to mean abortion in our jurisdiction,” the JCHS head said further.
Dr West, in noting that the accord explicitly says parties will “stress the need for universal access to quality and affordable comprehensive sexual and reproductive health information and education, taking into consideration the UNESCO international technical guidance on sexuality education”, said “we are fully aware that UNESCO has been advocating for comprehensive sexuality education and that’s specific”.
“We are not against sexual education; we are for it but comprehensive sexuality education is a type of sexual education that teaches children to be sexually nihilistic and anarchist, meaning everything is possible. We believe that children should be taught about sex in a way that is responsible and biologically consistent and accurate instead of making people basically promiscuous,” he declared.
“We think, if the Government goes ahead and signs without putting these safeguards in or making it clear in some public statement which can be referenced, they are selling out the children of Jamaica and we are really concerned about the children and the future of Jamaica,” Dr West insisted.
On November 15 this year, the signing ceremony for the Samoa Agreement took place in Apia, Samoa. To date, 49 African, Caribbean and Pacific states, out of a possible 79, and all 27 EU member states (76 per cent of the relevant member states) have signed the agreement. Failure to sign could negatively impact Jamaica’s ability to access the development funding for which the agreement provides.