Laws of Eve: Communities must take care of Children
The recent spate of atrocities committed against children have left all well-thinking Jamaicans in a state of shock and disbelief. Many questions have been asked, such as "When did we become so cruel and heartless in this country, that the killing of innocent children could become so prevalent?" The question I will ask today is, "What protection exists under the law for our children?"
Without fear of contradiction, I will boldly declare that every person in this country has a role to play in protecting our children. It is not just the duty of parents and blood relations. As a community, we need to revert to the idea that it takes a village to raise a child, so that every adult feels that the welfare of any child is their responsibility. To some extent, there are laws in Jamaica that adopt that approach.
Today, I will look at aspects of the Domestic Violence and Child Care and Protection Acts, that make child protection no a broader obligation and not merely a parental obligation.
Most applications to the Family Court or the Resident Magistrate's Court are made by women for occupation and protection orders against their husbands, common law spouses to prevent abuse (whether physical, emotional or verbal) from occurring or recurring. However, that act is also intended to protect children from suffering abuse in their homes.
Whereas applications for protection and occupation orders are usually made by the victim, in the case of a child, that application has to be made by someone else on his or her behalf. That application can be made by a Constable; or any other person, whether or not they are a member of the household, with the leave of the Court.
It is that provision that reminds us that, as concerned citizens, if we are aware that abuse has occurred against a child, we have the power to take the necessary action before the Court under the Domestic Violence Act to protect that child. Unfortunately, most of us are inclined to avoid interfering in a family matter.
There is even a broader public responsibility under the Child Care and Protection Act. Section 6 of that Act states that, "Any person who has information which causes that person to suspect that a child- (a) has been, is being or is likely to be, abandoned, neglected or, physically or sexually ill-treated; or (b) is otherwise in need of care and protection, shall make a report to the Registry."
No action can be taken against a person who makes a report to the registry in good faith. However, if any person fails to make a report of suspected abandonment, neglect of physical or sexual ill-treatment of any child, may be liable "upon summary conviction before a Resident Magistrate to a fine not exceeding $500,000 or to imprisonment to a term not exceeding six months or to both".
The obligation to see to a child's welfare is therefore not discretionary, it is mandated by statute. The question, however, is whether the authorities enforce that requirement. I also wondered whether, if there was adequate enforcement of section 6 of the Child Care and Protection Act, if it might have prevented further abuse and, ultimately, the death of some of the children we have lost.
On UNICEF's website, Jamaica's strategy vis-a-vis the protection of children is said to be to "strengthen key components of the child protection system and coordination of the sector, including the creation of community-based child protection committees and strengthening of inter-agency referral mechanisms." A critical component of the strategy is a "comprehensive assessment of the child protection sector will be conducted as the basis for developing a Child Protection System Action Plan."
I would hope that in Child Month, we will hear more about the Child Protection System Action Plan.