Hang 'em high!
Senator Longmore advocates death penalty or life sentence for adults who kill children
Students, parents and staff at Braeton Primary and Infant School in Portmore, St Catherine, participate in special devotions at the institution on Monday, June 12, 2023 following the murder of 8-year-old student Danielle Rowe, who was abducted from the school and her throat slashed. (Photo: Joseph Wellington)

GOVERNMENT Senator Dr Saphire Longmore has made a strong call for adults who murder children to be given a mandatory minimum sentence of life imprisonment, or the death penalty.

"For me, I would hang them; for me, mandatory minimum of life for anyone who kills a child," Dr Longmore said in an impassioned presentation in the Senate on Friday.

Dr Longmore, who was making her contribution to the debate on proposed amendments to the Child Care and Protection Act (CCPA), 2023, but also referring to a similar Bill before a joint select committee (JSC) of Parliament, said she believes "there is no excuse for the murder of our children".

"If we are to contemplate and take this piece of legislation further in the protecting of our children, we should consider taking it to that full extent that there is absolutely no avenue for recourse for anyone who murders our children," she said.

The debate comes amid outrage across the country at the rape and murder of three little girls since the start of this year.

On September 24, eight-year-old Talia Thompson was raped and stabbed to death in Discovery Bay, St Ann. A 27-year-old man, who is said to be a neighbour and family friend, is in custody after he allegedly attempted to commit suicide.

On June 8, eight-year-old Danielle Rowe was abducted from Braeton Primary School in Portmore, St Catherine, and taken in a car to St Andrew. She was found on Roosevelt Avenue that day with her throat cut. She later died.

In February, nine-year-old Nikita Noel was raped and strangled in Hanover. Five months later, 42-year-old Omar Green of a Barbary Hill, Lucea, address was sentenced to life in prison. He will not be eligible for parole before serving 50 years and seven months behind bars.

Legislators are seeking to amend Section 24 of the CCPA to bring an end to the practice of locking up children who have not committed a criminal offence but who have been deemed "uncontrollable". After robust deliberation the senators approved the amendments to the CCPA.

The other Bill being reviewed by the JSC pertains to provisions relating to minimum mandatory sentencing for child offenders. It is being proposed that children convicted of murder serve a mandatory sentence of 20 years in prison before becoming eligible for parole. Two additional Bills dealing with minimum sentencing are also being examined by the JSC.

Dr Longmore, who is a psychiatrist, contended that, based on their mental capacity and developmental stages, "it is wrong for a child to be sentenced for murder, because they are [children]".

"My personal thing is that we are adherent to, especially, Article 6 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which seeks to ensure that a child is entitled to their full and adequate development as best as afforded by that system," she said.

"When a child commits murder, they are a victim too; that child is also entitled to Article 6. And if a child kills another child, God forbid, what needs to happen is a follow-through of what we are doing here, which is providing the rehabilitative services that provides for justice being served to the victim, but also justice for the perpetrator who is a child," she said, siding with United Nations Children's Fund's call for rehabilitation of child murders in its submission to the JSC in June.

The Administration has been pushing for stricter minimum sentences for capital murder, and among the proposed changes set out in the three pieces of related legislation is a mandatory minimum sentence of 50 years for capital murder.

In addition to the proposed changes to the Child Care and Protection (Amendment) Act, 2023, JSC members are also considering amendments to the Offences Against the Person Act (OAPA), and the Criminal Justice (Administration) Act.

Amendments to Section 3(1)(b) of the OAPA would increase the mandatory minimum sentence from 15 to 45 years. Where a capital murder has been committed, the mandatory minimum sentence to be served before being eligible for parole moves from 20 to 50 years under Section 3 (1C)(a); and under Section 42(F) of the Criminal Justice (Administration) Act the time to be deemed as life imprisonment increases from 30 to 50 years when the offence committed is murder.

BY ALECIA SMITH Senior staff reporter smitha@jamaicaobserver.com

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