The recent media reports concerning the plight of a St Elizabeth woman and her children, have generated a great deal of interest. Not only did they highlight the plight of many of our nation's children, but created a new level of awareness among persons who usually associate North America with intervention to secure the needs of children.
All adults in Jamaica have a responsibility to safeguard the best interest of children, but the Child Care and Protection Act is directly applicable to parents, teachers, day-care centre workers, doctors, nurses, guidance counsellors and other persons who work with children. There are three main objectives:
To make sure that adults consider the views and best interests of children.
To put in place new organisations to monitor the care and protection of children.
To provide special help to children who are in need of care and protection.
To make sure that all children are protected from abuse or neglect.
A child is defined as a person under the age of 18; and the following aspects of the act should be carefully noted:
Section 6 (2)
Any person who has information which causes that person to suspect that a child:
(a) has been, is being or is likely to be, abandoned, neglected or physically or sexually ill-treated; or
(b) is otherwise in need of care and protection, shall make a report to the Registry."
Section 8 (1) describes the circumstances in which a child shall be considered to be in need of care and protection, such as:
falling into bad associations, exposed to moral danger, or beyond control, and has no parent or guardian or has an unfit parent or guardian or one who is not exercising proper care and guardianship
is being cared for in circumstances where his physical or mental health or emotional state is being seriously impaired or there is a risk or such impairment
is a child in respect of whom offences such as assault, rape or sexual touching (among others) has been committed or attempted to be committed.
Where a child is considered to be in need of care or protection, any constable or authorised person may bring that child before the Children's Court. There are several options open to the court under section 14 of the act, and it seems clear that the committal of the child to the care of a fit person (whether that person is a relative or not) is the most likely course; but the court may also:
make an order requiring the parent or guardian to enter into recognisance to exercise proper care and guardianship
place the child under the supervision of a probation officer for a period not exceeding three years.
The numbers to use to contact the Children's Registry is 1-888-PROTECT.
Sherry-Ann McGregor is a partner and mediator with the firm Nunes, Scholefield, Delon and Co. Send Feedback and questions to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.