Editorial | Heartened by the Armadale ruling
Every time your confidence is shaken in Jamaica’s capacity to survive and grow as a rational, competent and sophisticated state – such as with the recent rash of irrational and brazen bloodletting - something drags you from the brink, or forces a rethink of perceptions. On Monday it was the ruling by Supreme Court judge Kirk Anderson in favour of six former wards of the Armadale Juvenile Correctional Centre.
The Armadale Centre, in St Ann, on Jamaica’s north shore, gained notoriety seven years ago, for the death of seven girls in a fire, which was started when a policeman lobbed a grenade into a room, with protesting inmates, setting alight a mattress that was being used as a barricade. The irresponsibility or insensitivity of that action was one thing. But Justice Paul Harrison, who conducted a public inquiry into the affair, unearthed systemic and systematic abuse at the home.
For instance, the makeshift block where the fire took place - which was really a converted office area, measuring 12 feet by 20 feet, was earmarked for five girls. It housed 23 – a decision by the then head of the facility that Justice Harrison described as “uncaring and inhumane”. Further, the educational and psychological development of the girls at Armadale, if not totally neglected, was severely under-served.
Justice Harrison’s inquiry of Armadale, though, was not the first time that the poor and squalid state of either juvenile correction centres, places of safety or children’s home was brought to the attention of Jamaica. Five years earlier Sadie Keating, a retired civil servant, who chaired a four-member review into these facilities, arrived at similar conclusions, including cases of sexual abuse and predatory behaviour against children. The Keating review came because of the persistence of one would-be adopter who observed the behaviour of a toddler who she hoped to adopt simulating sex with other children.
A positive outcome of the Keating Report was the Child Care Act, which spawned a number of oversight offices, including that of the Children’s Advocate, whose job it is to pursue the rights and welfare of children. It is that office which was behind the case on behalf of the Armadale six, who are now adults, which claimed breaches of the constitutional rights by the Jamaican State.
Indeed, section 13 (2) (h) of the Constitution guarantees Jamaicans “the right to equitable and humane treatment by any public authority in the exercise of any function” while (k) (i) of the same section guarantees to every child “such measures of protection as are required by virtue of the status of being a minor or as part of the family, society and the State”.
While the six girls in this case did suffer physical injuries during the events of 2009, it is clear that the Jamaican State did not live up to its obligations and further provided that they suffered psychologically as a result. Significantly, lawyers for the Jamaican State, in the end, conceded these points. On the face of it, and subject to the any period of limitations that may apply, the way appears open to others of the Armadale girls to see redress.
But just as important is the fact that critical Jamaican institutions, embracing to big ideas about rights and democracy, worked. That is civilising.