Fri | Sep 22, 2017

Armadale victim begging for help

Published:Sunday | October 16, 2016 | 10:00 AMNadine Wilson-Harris
Diahann Gordon Harrison, children's advocate.

At two months' pregnant, *Simone Black had to jump through a window at the Armadale Correctional Centre to save her life and that of her unborn child after a fire broke out at the facility in 2009, which resulted in seven deaths.

At the time, she was 16 years old and had been deemed to be in need of care and protection, as she was abandoned by both her mother and father. Armadale was just one of several government facilities she called home after becoming a ward of the state at age 13 years.

"Mi mother give me away from mi born. Mi go here and there, mi never did a go a school and those things, 'cause nobody was sending me to school. A so comes mi reach into the home. One lady carry mi there and said I would get good care in the home," she shared with The Sunday Gleaner.

Simone continued to live a very nomadic life after she left the government system, and this way of life is now being blamed for her not being among the six girls who last week were informed they will be compensated to the tune of $20 million after successfully suing the Government over their treatment at the facility. This is because the Office of the Children's Advocate, which filed the claims on behalf of several of the girls, was unable to locate her before the six-year statutory limitation to file a civil claim had expired.

Children's Advocate Diahann Gordon Harrison said Simone is just one of several of the girls who were affected during the Armadale fire but could not be found when it was time to file the claims. As such, it is now left to the court to determine whether they can still be compensated.

"She is one of the girls who literally went underground, and when we were trying to institute the claims from way back when, this would have been from 2011, she just could not be found," Gordon-Harrison said.

"By the time she resurfaced, the statutory limitation, which is six years after the event had passed, was up and so her claim was out of time, because the law says, if you have something that caused you harm and you want to bring an action in court, you have to do it within six years from the date of the incident. But by the time she surfaced, it was in the seventh year and so she was statued barred," Gordon Harrison explained.

However, the children's advocate said her office will continue to make representation for girls like Simone, but they were now awaiting a court date to see if they would entertain her claim.

DIFFICULT

CIRCUMSTANCES

"All of them are in difficult circumstances - financially, emotionally and otherwise. All of them suffered. I cannot even begin to imagine what it must be like to have been there on that night," she stated.

Simone, who continued to suffer abuse after leaving the government system, feels that while the money will not erase that painful night from her memory, it will help her to provide some stability for herself and her children.

"Mi live here so and I live there so, some people put me up for now. I don't really have a steady place to live," she said.

The Government had insisted, up until recently, that it would not compensate the girls who were at the St Ann-based children's home at the time of the fire. This, in spite of a recommendation by the United Nations Human Rights Committee in 2011 that the State should, as a matter of urgency, adequately compensate the families of the victims of the fire at the Armadale Juvenile Correctional Centre.

Jamaica is scheduled to appear before the Committee in Geneva, Switzerland, this week, where it will be expected to defend its handling of several human-rights issues. Gordon Harrison said she would not speculate whether this impending appearance might have motivated the Government's change of heart to now award compensation to the girls affected by the tragedy.

"All we can say is that we at the Office of the Children's Advocate have always maintained that the matter should be dealt with. We have always been hoping that we would arrive at a settlement in terms of getting the money from the Government on behalf of the girls," she said.

[* names changed to protect identity]

nadine.wilson@gleanerjm.com