Delayed promise! - No work done by Parliament to fight gender-based violence in 2016
In the final weeks of 2016, the Government has been trying to fulfil a promise to revive a parliamentary committee tasked with reviewing a variety of laws to punish more severely, perpetrators of violence against women and children.
But not much is expected to be accomplished by year end even with calls for action, following last weekend's killing of two women, allegedly by their male companions, in domestic disputes. A 25-year-old woman was murdered yesterday in St Ann.
In July, following the murder of three-year-old Nevalesia Campbell in St Ann, Gender Affairs Minister Olivia Grange told the House of Representatives that a committee comprising members from the House and the Senate was to be reconvened to continue examining the Offences Against the Person Act, the Sexual Offences Act, the Child Care and Protection Act and the Domestic Violence Act.
Five months later, Leader of Government Business Derrick Smith, on December 6, tabled a motion resulting in members of the House being named to the committee to be chaired by Delroy Chuck, justice minister. The Parliament has advised that a similar motion will be tabled in the Senate, which is to meet tomorrow.
However, Opposition Spokesman on Justice Mark Golding said even if the Senate appoints its members tomorrow, it is likely that the committee will not start meeting until next year.
"I really cannot see why, 11 months after assuming office, the Government has only now sought to re-establish the Joint Select Committee. And this is despite a promise from the minister, back in July, to do so," he told The Gleaner.
"Violent crimes against women and children are at alarming levels. The Government's record so far in protecting the citizens of this country is appalling, as 2016 promises to be the worst year for murders since the debacle (also under their watch) in 2009.
"There can be no prosperity amid this carnage, but the Government continues to fiddle while Rome burns," he added.
Grange had argued that the committee's meetings were halted under the previous administration in which Golding was justice minister and chairman. However, he has explained that he was also chairman of two other committees which were going through "complex" legislation.
Judith Wedderburn, gender activist, said the lack of urgency from the Government was an example of how reforming other social legislation have been sidelined, especially in the recent years of economic reforms.
"Maybe because there's no national election taking place, maybe we will see something before the end of the legislative year, which is in March 2017. There can't be any more excuses for the committee not to be formed and to do its work."
Christian lobby group Jamaica Coalition for a Healthy Society (JCHS) has argued that over the years, violence against women and children has been condemned with "no positive change.
"The JCHS is of the view that in order to have meaningful impact on both violence and poverty, an honest, empirically based discussion on family and fatherlessness must be placed at the centre of national policy," the group said in a statement.
Grange has said a National Strategic Action Plan on gender-based violence is set for Cabinet's review at the start of 2017, and implementation is expected immediately after.
In September, University of the West Indies researcher Dr Herbert Gayle faced criticisms for a study which he said revealed that battered Jamaican men represent 40 per cent of the victims of domestic violence. He also found that there was usually very little support for these men, and national campaigns on domestic violence have, for the most part, focused on women.