By Carol Narcisse
Being busy doing nothing is a real art!
Youth Minister Lisa Hanna and the matter of children held in lock-ups and other adult correctional facilities is a prime example.
For several decades, now we have known of the problem of children being detained in jails and prisons along with adults. Many, we hear, are held in the adult lock-ups and prisons because they committed the crime of running away from home and being 'uncontrollable'. Others have committed serious crimes.
Such children are at risk of all sorts of abuse, including rape. We know that they are subjected to torturous confinement, and we know that they have no access to education unless you count the education they get from the adults in the jails and prisons.
The Child Care and Protection Act of 2004 sets out in detail what is to be done with children in conflict with the law and those in need of care and protection. It says, among other things, that children in conflict with the law shall be placed in juvenile facilities except where a child, 14 years or older, is certified by a court to be "(i) so unruly a character that the child cannot safely be so committed; or (ii) so depraved a character that the child is not a fit person to be so detained ...".
In such cases, that child "may be committed to such place, including an adult correctional centre, as may be specified in the commitment warrant".
In addition to the clear directions of the law, there have been several investigations into the situation of children in lock-ups, state-run homes and places of safety resulting in reports with recommendations begging to be implemented .
You would think that Minister Hanna and the Government would ACT so that the children could finally be free from the abuse.
Minister Hanna, speaking at a recent Child Development Agency forum, tells us that her ministry is soon to finalise a submission to Cabinet which will "seek Cabinet approval for recommendations for child offenders remanded by the court, or awaiting court appearance, to be held in separate facilities from those housing adults".
The Child Care and Protection Act already mandates this with only few exceptions, so why is the minister and her staff busying themselves with writing a Cabinet submission on just what the act says?
SAVE THE PAPER
If I may give the minister and Cabinet some unsolicited advice, save the paper and the time it will take to read and discuss it. Instead, read and adhere to the Child Care and Protection Act. And for the sake of the children who are right now being cruelly and inhumanely kept, please act with urgency to ensure there are alternative placements in appropriate facilities.
If the problem is a lack of space, the minister could set about to fix all dorms and sections of existing juvenile facilities that might be out of use because of disrepair. The minister could also enlist the aid of the army, private sector and international partners to carry out urgent repairs to, and commission into use for housing juveniles (even temporarily), any of the youth training camps that are not in use, or are being severely underutilised.
At the same time, Minister Hanna could move to strike up a partnership with the several non-governmental organisations, churches, etc, and partner with the University of the West Indies and other tertiary institutions' social work, psychology, counselling, medical and education departments. Such partnerships would be one way to mobilise appropriate interventions and increase the cadre of therapists and other specialists available to work with children in state care at next to no cost to the Government.
Children in adult correctional facilities and substandard conditions of care in juvenile facilities must become unacceptable to Minister Hanna, the Government and to all of us. If this is our starting point, every effort will be put into devising practical solutions which do not have to cost a great deal.
Carol Narcisse is a social policy analyst. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.