Senate passes Child Diversion Bill
The Upper House yesterday approved the Child Diversion Bill, paving the way for children who are in conflict with the law to be dealt with under a special regime instead of instituting criminal proceedings against the youngsters.
Lawmakers gave the nod to the new legislation with 13 amendments. The bill was piloted by Minister of Information and Youth Ruel Reid.
Earlier this year, the House of Representatives approved the bill with 33 amendments.
In his contribution to debate on the legislative measure, Government Senator Charles Sinclair said that Jamaica was a signatory to various United Nations Conventions on the Rights of the Child and noted that the passage of this bill would indicate the country's commitment to the implementation of measures to ensure that children who commit offences were treated in a manner that upholds human dignity.
Sinclair bemoaned the condition of the facilities in St James where children who commit offences were detained. The Government legislator told his colleague senators that he visited a facility where children were held in the parish. According to Sinclair, "Tears almost come to my eyes to see the condition in which our children are [held]. Who find themselves in conflict with the law, who are presumed innocent, but they find themselves in difficult circumstances."
A suggestion from Opposition Senator Damion Crawford for the legislation to benefit, not only children up to 18 years but young adults up to 30 years, was not accepted by government members.
Crawford had argued that a 19-year-old may commit a first offence that did not warrant serious criminal sanction. He had recommended that the measure be renamed the Youth Diversion Bill.
In her contribution to debate on the bill, Opposition Senator Sophia Frazer-Binns welcomed the new measure, saying that it was timely. According to Frazer-Binns, between 2012 and 2013, more than 479 children found themselves in conflict with the law. The following year, the number increased to 565 with the main offences being sexual intercourse with a minor, rape and aggravated assault. She indicated that many of these cases which were placed before the courts could now be handled under the Child Diversion programme.