RT. HON. P.J. PATTERSON, Q.C., P.C.
PRIME MINISTER ON
NATIONAL CONSULTATION ON
JAMAICA CONFERENCE CENTRE
THURSDAY, AUGUST 16, 2001
Great honour for me to join your National Consultation on Juvenile Justice in Jamaica.
Meeting comes when great efforts are being galvanised locally and internationally around the issues of the rights and protection of our children.
Comes at a moment when the draft Child Care and Protection Act, a landmark work of social legislation, is well advanced.
This Act signals a new deal for our children by establishing a legal base for their care and protection and guaranteeing their right to a decent life, with adequate provisions to ensure that they are given every opportunity to thrive.
I am proud that this particular piece of legislation is being enacted by my administration, as it continues our tradition of progressive social legislation aimed particularly at women and children.
Jamaica has a long history of service to children.
Indeed, the retention of the African concept of the extended family and of the "village" raising the child has existed informally for ages. Many of us in this room have benefited directly from this type of care and protection. Several of us are aware of associated discipline, provided by many surrogate mothers and fathers, who actively engaged in raising children, to some of whom they were not related by bloodlines.
It is one of those Jamaican traditions that is sadly disappearing due to the ravages of migration and the impersonal conditions of modern life.
The good old time approach to collective parenting needs to be revived in one form or another, if we are to provide a better foundation for today's youth.
The proverbial Barrel and Western Union remittances, are no match for the village Nana or mother, no match for a kind and concerned teacher.
There is simply no match for a loving father figure or mentor in the absence of a loving family environment.
Here I must congratulate the children's services for their efforts to advance the promotion of adoption.
This is the way to go and a sure method of increasing and recapturing that spirit of caring which was a feature of earlier times in Jamaica.
The government is deeply concerned about the plight of youths in the society.
- Youth are over-represented in a number of high risk areas, including being both victims and perpetrators of crimes of violence, including murder
- In exposure to HIV/AIDS
- As victims of rape, incest and carnal abuse
- Of teenage pregnancy
- Drug abuse
- Exposure to a life on the street and of the street.
Although it is still a minority of young people that fall into these categories, it is nevertheless a significant minority which could increase, if we do not put proper measures in place, to rescue them and ensure that they are given every opportunity to fulfill their God-given talents.
Just recently, I launched the Possibility Programme, a comprehensive plan to address the problem of street children. Under this programme we intend to rescue these children and re-socialise them to become better-adjusted and productive members of the society.
Ultimately, the problem of street children can only be solved when there is greater societal concern and awareness, and when parents are more responsible in their care of children.
CHILDREN'S HOMES AND PLACES OF SAFETY
The Government has also taken steps to improve the levels of care offered in children's homes and places of safety.
Minimum standards of care have been introduced for all state and privately run homes.
CHILDREN REMANDED IN CUSTODY
The issue of protecting children remanded in custody, has also been addressed in recent times, through measures to prevent children being locked up in adult penal institutions.
A procedural manual, "The A-Z for Children remanded in custody", has been published and is being circulated to the police, judiciary, and child-care agencies, among others. The manual sets out a systematic programme of steps to be followed when a child is taken into custody to ensure their protection and safety.
The processing of juvenile cases has also been expedited and on-going programmes are in place to sensitise the police to the needs of children and youth in general.
The future of Jamaica is inextricably tied to the well being of its children, who must be nurtured and allowed to develop their full potential.
Jamaica, as a signatory to the international convention on the rights of the child, will implement policies that promote the best interests of children and provide adequate care when those responsible fail to do so.
Jamaica was among the first countries in the world to ratify the convention in 1989. Two years later, we signed the World Summit for Children declaration on the survival, protection and development of children.
Our country has adhered to the World Summit goals on:
- Minimum indicators regarding reducing infant and maternal mortality
- Severe and moderate malnutrition among children under five
- Immunization coverage and issues such as increasing access to safe drinking water and providing universal basic education.
In all of these areas, Jamaica has performed outstandingly and has surpassed many of the prescribed goals.
Over the past 10 years:
- The infant mortality rate decreased to 24.5 percent as compared to 27.0 per cent in 1990.
- The maternal mortality rate in year 2000 was 111 per 100,000 falling from between 112 to120 per 100,000 in 1987.
- Immunization coverage reached an all time high of 95.2 per cent in 1996, while parish clinic data, shows that we have made great inroads into combating malnutrition in children.
- Data for 1999 shows under nutrition to be at 4.0 per cent, compared to 6.4 per cent in 1989.
- Severe malnutrition was 0.1 per cent in 1999 compared to 0.3 per cent in 1989.
Our aim is to protect children who are victims of difficult circumstances, as well as those who come into conflict with the law.
To this end, we have implemented the national plan of action for the survival, protection and development of children.
The Kingston Consensus which is the outcome document of the Fifth Ministerial Meeting, required governments in the region to:
- Sustain the gains made
- Deal with factors limiting achievement and with new and emerging challenges.
Among these are indicators:
- To assess the fulfillment of child rights.
- The reduction of all forms of exploitation of the child.
Jamaica, as secretariat pro-tempore, will present a full report on the conference to the special session of the United Nations in September 2001.
As we try to uphold our commitment to the rights of the child, we understand that we cannot do it alone. Over the years we have therefore collaborated with:
- The NGO community
- Civil society
- The private sector
- The international community in the area of child welfare and development programmes.
Against that background we wish to recognise the invaluable contribution of UNICEF in the areas of legal and policy reform and the rehabilitation of those who are in difficult circumstances.
Integral support was given to the Child Care and Protection Act, training of the police on child rights issues, and the establishment of the child rights clubs in several primary and secondary schools.
It was out of these activities that the need to undertake this national consultation on juvenile justice was identified and made a priority.
So today here we are, the national consultation is underway - the uniting of the principal stakeholders of the juvenile justice system, through this national consultation, is one of the most effective ways to create greater awareness of juvenile justice.
This will therefore serve to promote the upholding and protection of the rights of not only offending children and adolescents, but also those who for one reason or another, are victims of difficult circumstances. Through this process which you begin today as stakeholders, your role will be to contribute to the discussion on the issues identified, particularly the gaps and areas requiring reform, in order for you to contribute to a national plan of action to enhance and reform the juvenile justice system.
So far, the Government's commitment to reforming the juvenile justice system has found expression in the provision of both legislative and institutional frameworks, necessary for the enforcement of the rights and the protection of children and adolescents.
To this end, we are reorganizing and upgrading the children's services division towards a change in perspective from needs based to a rights based approach.
We are committed to the principles outlined in the Kingston Consensus. One such principle is to ensure that every child and adolescent in conflict with the law has due process and is treated in accordance with the relevant principles and provisions of the convention on the rights of the child and other national and international legal instruments and standards for child protection.
Ladies and gentlemen, young people, this requires a holistic approach, if our efforts are to be sustained. It therefore means that where necessary, we are going to have to take steps to promote training in human rights, child rights and the administration of justice for juveniles to all those involved with children and adolescents in conflict with the law.
In addition to legal personnel who deal directly with children and adolescents in conflict with the law, we should not forget the institutions such as the school and family, as well as the role of civil society.
A child spends a great part of his waking day at school.
Very often, it is here that truancy and unacceptable behavioural patterns are first identified.
We must begin to train our teachers to engage children in learning about their rights and responsibilities under the law as part of the process of creating good citizens and building civic responsibility.
Youths of all ages must be engaged in learning about the foundations of justice, freedom and responsibility and how to protect and enhance these in their community. There is no doubt that the school, through its curricula, must have a direct role in helping to uphold the government's commitment to the various regional and international conventions.
The Kingston Consensus requires us:
- To continue to promote partnerships with the rest of civil society
- To assist our children and adolescents to develop healthy values and enhance the protection of human rights and justice.
It is my fervent hope that through this consultation, as a group, you will lend support to the creation of mechanisms that will facilitate the participation of civil society in all matters that affect children and adolescents.
Finally, we are mindful also that very often institutions within the society that are entrusted with the care and protection of our children, often violate the trust and confidence of our young ones, sometimes leaving them abused and dejected.
There is no doubt that in addition to creating the legal and institutional framework necessary for the promotion and protection of the rights of the child, those who violate them, must be dealt with strongly under the law.
I must therefore state that in reforming the juvenile system we must ensure the enforcement of punitive measures for offenders.
Despite weaknesses in some areas, as a country, Jamaica has made significant progress in our drive to improve the situation of children.
Given these achievements and the outcome of this consultation, bearing in mind the recommendations put forward in the consultant's report, I have no doubt that follow-up action at the policy level will put the country well on its way to meeting the target goals in respect of reviewing national legislation, to ensure full conformity with the standards of the convention on the rights of the child by the year 2005.