Wed | Apr 1, 2020

Letter of the Day | Enforce existing laws on parents’ responsibility

Published:Thursday | February 27, 2020 | 12:16 AM

THE EDITOR, Madam:

Recently, Prime Minister Andrew Holness had the occasion to publicly state that contemplation may well have to be given to legislation that hold parents accountable for the behaviour of their children. This comment by the prime minister was made around the same time of a media report by child and adolescent psychiatrist, Dr Ganesh Shetty. Dr Shetty is reported to have said, “Gunmen don’t just appear out of nowhere and come to kill us; they are born and they face all kinds of traumatic experiences; they get used, abused and neglected, traumatised, and then at some point they become emotionally dead killers.”

Not surprisingly, therefore, there are many that hold the view that in a country where there is a real risk of being the victim of a criminal confrontation, it is better to be held up by a criminal who is advanced in years, as opposed to a young ‘shotta yute’. The rationale for the latter is far less likely to appreciate any pleas for mercy from his would-be victim.

The comments by both Prime Minister Holness and Dr Shetty are congruent and bear very much on the demographic of those offenders who on a daily basis are brought before the criminal courts in respect of offences such as murder, wounding, gang activities, scamming, rape and illegal possession of firearm. The average age of an offender in respect of these offences is normally between 18 and 30. Indeed, they account for the majority of criminal activities within the length and breadth of Jamaica.

In some instances, law-abiding citizens have literally given up our physical space to these offenders. By way of quick example, if we care to really admit it, there are many of us who deliberately, no longer during our motoring in our daily commute, traverse areas at certain intersections within our urban areas for fear of being harassed by youngsters at the stop lights. Very often, these youngsters appear to be of the age where they should be in school. They also appear to have long been neglected by their parents. Whereas the prime minister is perfectly correct in his comments, the question arises as to whether we need new legislation to deal with this concern raised by him, or are there in existence legislation, which can adequately address this concern?

Child Care and Protection Act

Section 9:1(a) of the Child Care and Protection Act makes provisions for parents and those in the capacity as in loco parentis to be charged for neglect or abandonment of children. It is therefore respectfully submitted that the issue may not be the need to create new legislation, but the need to enforce existing laws through awareness, encouragement and prosecution. Prosecution of parents for neglect of children, in the widest sense, is not a frequent occurrence within our court. This being said, admittedly, the Child Care and Protection Act is in need of amendments to include specific statutory definitions in relation to parental obligations and acts of omission in this regard. Stiffer penalties for parental neglect are also required if such amendments are to have any meaningful effect.

Truancy laws should also be incorporated in the amendment to the Child Care and Protection Act. In the absence of any reasonable excuse, parents must be brought to book when their children are absent from school. Whatever became of truancy officers once associated with the Ministry of Education?

While the focus remains on the implementation of numerous states of emergency to curtail crime, we must recognise that such crime-fighting measures do not address the cause and actual source of criminality. We need to start from the start and deal with the proper care of our children.

Peter Champagnie, QC Attorney-at-Law