BY: DIONNE ROSE Friday, June 11, 2004 (JIS)
|Minister of Health,
The Hon. John Junor
The care and protection of children should be a strong commitment of any administration, and the Government, through the Ministry of Health, is strengthening that resolve with the implementation of the Child Care and Protection Act 2003.
Passed in both Houses of Parliament in March this year, the Act is intended to protect children from abuse and neglect. It also makes persons accountable for the children left in their care.
"The Child Care and Protection Act is a comprehensive piece of legislation, in essence capturing all that was in the previous legislation, the Juveniles Act, and adding some provisions, which have arisen because of changing circumstances in our country," Minister of Health, John Junor tells JIS News in an interview.
Citing some of these provisions in the Act, the Minister says it includes the creation of a Child Advocate that operates as an "Ombudsman for children", with great powers . "The powers are quite wide in respect to investigations and protection of children's rights," the Minister explains.
The Ministry is working to appoint the Child Advocate, which should be in place by July, Mr. Junor points out.
The Act also advocates for the establishment of a Children's Registry, where persons can go to make complaints of abuse or abandonment, among others.
"Any person suspecting an abuse against a child or who has evidence that the child may be in need of care and protection can report that matter to the Registry. The Registrar will review the case reported and refer it to the appropriate agency for action," he explains.
Minister Junor further explains that the legislation forces the individual to act and failure to do so will result in serious consequences. "If there is a failure to act on a report, it can lead to criminal prosecution both for the Registrar and for the Agency to which it was referred," he points out, adding that the Act stipulates that the person implicated can be fined up to $250,000 or imprisonment for three months.
Minister Junor says that the Act also provides for circumstances where a child may be in need of care and protection, for example, in issues of cruelty, and the trafficking and sale of children.
"It gives powers, where a child is at risk or is abused, to search for that child and to remove the child from that place. In fact, it goes further than that. It may remove the abuser from the home in which the child is, even if the home belongs to the abuser," he notes.
Addressing the issue of begging, where guardians or parents are proven to be accomplices, Minister Junor points out that the Act prohibits this under Section 41, which states that persons can be fined $250,000.
"I think it is a far reaching piece of legislation.
The challenge is to ensure compliance with the provisions. We have, for example, put in place a very strong inspectorate body to deal with the question of licensing of children's homes. There are standards that have already been promulgated and being improved as we move and go along," he says.
Minister Junor says that enforcement of the Act is another critical challenge, which should be aptly met by the Child Development Agency (CDA), which has been given Executive Agency status.
Chief Executive Officer of the CDA, Allison Anderson informs JIS News that the CDA has been vigilant in terms of its monitoring, with specific standards and procedures being implemented. Monitoring, she says, takes the form of announced and unannounced visits.
"For each region, whatever number of homes, they have a set number of announced and unannounced visits that they are to make for the month and for the quarter," she explains.
Miss Anderson says there are usually three visits to each home for the quarter. Meanwhile, she says that the CDA has already started a six-month educational campaign to educate the public about the Act itself. The Environmental Foundation of Jamaica (EFJ) and the Council of Voluntary Social Services (CVSS) are funding the campaign.
She says that the CDA is currently doing a baseline assessment to see what are people's general assessment and how informed they are about the Act.
The legislation stipulates that every children's home has to be licensed. Commenting on this issue, Miss Anderson says once the Regulations of the Act come into force, all new homes will be required to be licensed.
Meanwhile, she says the other 60 homes, which now exist, will also have to be licensed under the Act.
"This is a comprehensive legislation that is meant to provide a framework for the care and protection of children and it is the first time that a piece of legislation speaks specifically to the importance of the family as a social unit and that I think is a big benefit for children," Miss Anderson says.
"It also creates a structure within which any kind of child maltreatment is to be identified, investigated and punished and it speaks to some extreme forms of child maltreatment, which we never recognized before under any law, such as child trafficking and also child labour," she adds.
Miss Anderson says the Act also sets out guidelines for decision making on behalf of children, which is very new. "What the Act does say is whenever people are making decisions about children, the best interests of the child should be paramount in making that decision and the Act helps us in some things that you would wish to consider when taking the best interest of the child into account," she says.
The passage of this Act allows Jamaica to fulfil its commitment under the Convention of the Rights of the Child, which was ratified by Jamaica in May 1991.
By ratifying this instrument, the Government has committed itself to protecting and ensuring children's rights, and has agreed to hold itself accountable for this commitment before the international community.
Built on varied legal systems and cultural traditions, the Convention on the Rights of the Child is a universally agreed set of non-negotiable standards and obligations. It spells out the basic human rights that children everywhere have, without discrimination. These include the right to survival; to develop to the fullest; to protection from harmful influences, abuse and exploitation; and to participate fully in family, cultural and social life.
The Convention protects children's rights by setting standards in health care, education and legal, civil and social services. These standards are benchmarks against which progress can be assessed. States that are party to the Convention are obliged to develop and undertake all actions and policies in the best interest of the child.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child is the first legally binding international instrument to incorporate the full range of human rights - civil and political as well as economic, social and cultural rights.
Two Optional Protocols on the involvement of children in armed conflict and on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, were adopted to strengthen the provisions of the Convention in these areas. They came into force on February 12 and January 18, 2002, respectively.
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