Legal Scoop | Gorillas, grown-ups and parental neglect - Amending the Child Care and Protection Act
The topic of parental neglect hit the international front pages last week when a three-year-old boy fell into the gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo.
Administrators of the zoo, having determined that the child was in danger - and based on the videos I saw, it certainly appeared that way - fatally shot the animal.
The shooting of the chimp sparked outrage among thousands of Americans who blamed the death of this gorilla on the zoo, the toddler's mom, or both.
I am passionately against labelling the mom a bad mom because she took her eyes off her child for a few seconds, or a minute or even two minutes.
Let the parent who has never had that heart-stopping moment where you look around, do not see your child, do a double take, knit your brows and quizzingly calls out for him/her, just to heave a sigh of relieve when you realise that he/she had simply walked off with dad, or turned the corner before you, or had been hidden from your view by some intervening bodies.
If you are able to relate at all, it means that you, like myself, have been guilty, at some point in time, of having taken your eyes off your child for a moment or a couple thereof.
However, I do not agree that taking your eyes off your child for a few moments means that you are a bad parent.
Unfortunately, there are going to be those instances when some (thankfully, not many) good parents miss their kids, panic, and later their worst fears are realised.
Statistically, you will have a few cases that will not end happily, that's life, and whether the die rolls in our favour or not is often, what I call, "sheer happenstance".
Let us be grateful for our own happenstance and not stand in judgement of others.
Parental neglect in Jamaica
In Jamaica, we have been having our own discussions about parental neglect for some time now, albeit at a more temperate tone, and this in part, no doubt, would have prompted the hard-working, then, minister of justice, Mark Golding, to table a bill to amend the Childcare and Protection Act (the act).
Presumably, the bill has been carried over into the new legislative year by the new administration. While I do not agree that taking your eyes off your kid for a few moments is parental neglect, I agree that not being able to account for your child for an extended period should be an offence, and this is what the bill proposes to introduce.
The bill also seeks to introduce the mandating of parents to attend parenting courses, as a sanction the court may order under the act.
The jury is out on how effective the latter measure will prove; however, it is a noble and brave proposal. I trust the outcome will not be along the vein of casting pearls to swine, and I certainly wish it well.
The bill proposes to amend Section 9 of the act, which deals with cruelty to children and sets out various offences which persons may be charged with in relation to minors.
In a nutshell, subsection 1 criminalises various types of assaults against minors by, or facilitated by, their parents or legal guardians.
Subsection 3 deals with various kinds of "neglect" of minors, for instance, certain acts or omission resulting in the suffocation, drowning and a lack of education or proper maintenance, of a minor.
The proposed amendment will expand this section of the Act to make it possible for the police to charge the parents of children who are found unsupervised on the streets or other public places late at night or living with a male or female adult, in circumstances which expose the child to risk of sexual, or other, abuse.
Given that the toddler/gorilla saga took place in "broad daylight" (as we say in Jamaica), the proposed amendment would not have helped the animal rights activists clamouring for their own pound of flesh, had similar legislation existed in the USA.
At some point in time, we may have to revisit the requirement that the neglect be "late at night," to be an offence. Nevertheless, I am in agreement with the proposed amendment and encourage the new administration to push ahead with passing same into law.
- Shena Stubbs is an attorney at law and legal commentator. Send feedback to: Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter:@shenastubbs.