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Senate debates bill to give children second chance

Published:Tuesday | July 10, 2018 | 12:00 AMErica Virtue/Senior Gleaner Writer
Ruel Reid
Damion Crawford

Debate on the Child Diversion Bill 2018, which seeks to implement measures to deal with wayward children who come into conflict with the law, opened in the Senate last Friday.

Education and Information Minister Ruel Reid, in opening remarks, commended the bipartisan participation in the debate on the measure that came with 33 amendments from the House of Representatives in January.

"Child diversion is the process of implementing measures for dealing with children who are alleged to, or accused or recognised to have infringed the penal law without resorting to formal judicial proceedings," Reid explained. "It is considered to be in the interest of individuals to further the public interest to use some form of alternative measures to deal with these categories of offenders," he added.

According to Reid, in most cases, diversion of children provides greater benefits to the offender, victim and society than would the formal criminal-justice system. He hastened to point out that diversion did not intend to make child offenders less accountable or responsible for their action, but to provide them with an opportunity to rethink their lives without getting a criminal record, and without the harmful exposure to the criminal-justice system. He noted that in many instances, child offenders were themselves victims.

Reid pointed out that as a party to the United Nation Conventions on the Rights of the Child, Jamaica had a duty to, among other things, "put measures in place to deal with children who are accused of breaking the law".

In his contribution to the debate, Opposition Senator Damion Crawford knocked the bill for its heavy focus on crime and justice rather than youth, and made the case for the measure to be renamed Youth Diversion Bill, enabling a wider age range to benefit, namely one to 18 years for children, and 18-34 for youth. According to him, a 19-year-old first offence may be one that did not require him or her to be penalised by the criminal justice system.

He further argued that the bill placed poor parents who were unskilled and uninformed at a disadvantage when attending intervention events on their children's behalf, and suggested that a lawyer attend instead. Children with parents who were well off and could afford legal representation were better off than others not in that position, Crawford reasoned.