Mon | Apr 24, 2017

A Vision for Justice

Published:Thursday | February 26, 2015 | 2:00 AM

One would think that in a country as ours, where people are always crying for justice and there is enough evidence to show that a great number of Jamaicans are being robbed of their dignity and rights, there would be more discourse on the matter - a discussion that is not dominated by a few civil-society actors and organisations, but includes every person, regardless of their political affiliation, occupation and other status.

It's time for there to be more meaningful consideration for the rights of all Jamaicans - not just some. It's time that we do more to administer and secure justice for our people. We also need to begin educating our people about their rights and their responsibilities, as well as the law. These are, in my view, very important if we want to ensure that all of us (I'm being very hopeful here) have a greater opportunity to have meaningful and fulfilling lives as full and equal citizens of Jamaica.

Goal 2 of Vision 2030, the National Development Plan, which is the road map for the country, focuses on engendering a Jamaican society that is "secure, cohesive and just". Accordingly, "This goal establishes the importance of a society that is safe, respects the rights of all, operates with a sense of shared values and offers justice and fair play in the eyes of its members. Security and justice may only be attained and sustained in an environment in which human rights are respected and where there is consensus around a set of common values."

If this goal is to be realised/achieved, then we must begin to address some urgent issues which continue to affect a great number of us. Among the many concerns where the rights of people are concerned is the fact that:

1 More than 50 per cent of our students are leaving secondary school without any certification (five or more subjects, including mathematics and English).

2 Gender-based violence remains widespread, with many cases being underreported for reasons such as fear of reprisal or retaliation and extreme and costly delays in the judicial process. In addition, despite its prevalence, prosecutors, judges, police officers, and health professionals are not sufficiently aware of the issue and are, therefore, often ill-equipped to treat the issue sensitively.

3 The Sexual Offences Act contains gender- and orifice-specific definitions in its description of sexual intercourse and rape, which blatantly omits the ways in which men and boys are susceptible to rape and other forms of sexual abuse. Consequently, this results in a disparity in the punitive measures usually handed down to persons found guilty of the offence of rape, for example, which results in injustice for victims of sexual violence - merely because of the orifice penetrated, what was used to do the penetration, and the sex of the victim.

4 There is still no law which explicitly prohibits HIV-related discrimination or ensures that all persons - regardless of their age, sexual orientation or work (read sex workers) - have equitable access to comprehensive HIV-related services.

5 Not much is being done for adolescent girls who become pregnant while at school and drop out of the education system, despite the correlations between early pregnancy and educational attainment, health and well-being of the child and the mother, as well as linkages to poverty.

6 Despite advocacy before its enactment in April 2011, The Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms (2011) does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of health and HIV status, disability, socio-economic, marital status, ethnicity or sexual orientation.

Undoubtedly, these are some urgent matters we must begin to address as we pursue a course to guarantee better livelihoods and sustainable development for our people. Injustice cannot be ignored. The cry for justice is a loud one. It is time we listen to the people crying for justice. As American author, activist, and civil rights leader, Coretta Scott King said, "Freedom and justice cannot be parcelled out in pieces to suit political convenience."

It is time we take (more?) steps to address the challenges we face where equality and justice are concerned. Let us now, more than ever, take action to, among other things, engender equality for all and, in particular, between women and men, the rich and poor, uptown and downtown, and country and town. Vision 2030 hinges on a 'safe, cohesive and just' society.

"A government for the people must depend for its success on the intelligence, the morality, the justice, and the interest of the people themselves." - Grover Cleveland

- Jaevion Nelson is a youth development, HIV and human rights advocate. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and jaevion@gmail.com.