Christian group raises more questions about NIDS BillFriday, February 26, 2021
BY BALFORD HENRY
THE Jamaica Coalition for a Healthy Society (JCHS) wants the Government to plug all loopholes in the Matrimonial Causes Act, which could facilitate uncommon marriages without attracting attention.
In a submission to the joint select committee (JSC) of Parliament reviewing the proposed National Identification and Registration (or NIDS) Bill, JCHS Advocacy Officer Philippa Davies urged the committee to be vigilant in ensuring that “the name, surname, sex and date and place of birth” be included in all birth and death certificates granted under the new system.
“In a time when the definition of marriage is under threat in western nations by world views, contrary to the world view on which Jamaican laws are and have been based, we would strongly recommend to the Parliament that every care be taken in what is allowed as amendments to the Marriage Act and other connected pieces of legislation,” she said.
She said that the NIDS Bill is being prepared to give the registrar general discretion to which details may be released, under the proposed merger of the current Registrar General's Department and the new National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA). She said that the proposals would place the registrar general “at the mercy of those who would rather for certain details, for example, 'sex', not to be included in a certified copy”.
“It is far better for the law to state, as it currently does, which details are to be included in a certified copy of the certificate. We are, therefore, urging the joint select committee to reject this proposal,” she stated.
According to Davies, the JCHS had taken note that although five amendments are proposed for the Marriage Act, only one such amendment has been proposed for the NIDS Bill.
“What is the significance of this inclusion? We are concerned about the inserting of amendments to other pieces, where such amendments are irrelevant to the focus of the primary legislation being debated,” she said.
She added that the JCHS also took exception to clause 13 (4), where a proposed amendment to the Marriage Act would allow the minister to make “regulations prescribing any matter required to be prescribed under the Act”.
“No rationale or justification has been given for this, neither does it bear any relationship to the NIDS. We, therefore, question the justification for including this clause,” she pointed out.
Davies also questioned whether the voluntary nature of the the certificate, which the Government has promised, can be sustained.
She said that an overarching concern for the JCHS is that Jamaican citizens must retain the freedom to participate in the economic and social activities of the country.
“The Government has repeatedly stated that it will be voluntary, not mandatory, yet if enrolment becomes the basis for access to basic services that are currently serviced by existing forms of national identification, or even enhanced and necessary services that are available to non-NIDS cardholders, enrolment will be a requirement in practice, if not de jure,” she argued.
“We posit that in a free and democratic society, legitimate involvement in economic and social activities of that country must not be curtailed by the Government. We, therefore, are of the view that citizens should not be excluded from economic and social activities if they do not want to participate in the NIDS,” she said.
“If they don't want to participate in the NIDS, the other current Government-issued identifications ought to remain in force and not be phased out,” she concluded.
The JCHS also criticised the Government for leaving several loopholes in the Bill, which they felt could be used by transgender and same-sex couples to access the system without notice.
The JSC reviewing the draft Bill is chaired by the minister of justice, Delroy Chuck, and also includes Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte.
It is reviewing the draft of a new National Identification and Registration Act, 2020 (NIDS), which was tabled in Parliament in December, with significant departures from the previous controversial Bill which was struck down by the Supreme Court on April 20, 2019 as unconstitutional.
The Bill has been referred to the joint select committee of Parliament for deliberations and is expected to be approved later this year.
The Jamaica Coalition for a Healthy Society was formed in January 2012 by individuals and organisations that were signatories to the JCHS Charter. At the core is a group of Christians who envision a Jamaican society “in which Judeo-Christian values nourish and enrich the social, spiritual, physical, emotional and mental health of the society”, according to the group's website.
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