Erica Virtue, Senior Gleaner Writer
Minister of Youth and Culture Lisa Hanna, who has faced sustained criticisms from local and international human-rights groups about her stewardship of the ministry, has extended an invitation to such bodies to "talk" with her.
Hanna and a team from the Ministry of Youth and Culture were guests at a Gleaner Editors' Forum held last Friday at the newspaper's North Street, Kingston, offices.
The minister said she was not immune to the criticisms, but believed the rights groups and Government had the best interest of the nation's youth at heart, especially those at risk.
She said an adversarial approach, however, will not solve the issues.
"Come to Jamaica and come and sit with us and let us have a reasonable discussion on what is happening," Hanna responded when asked to address the group specifically.
"It's the same message to the local groups. Come and sit and talk with us," expressed the minister.
Hanna and her ministry have been criticised for housing young people in adult correctional facilities in breach of international protocols and local laws. In the first half of the year, an online petition by Jamaicans For Justice (JFJ) was addressed to the Government of Jamaica, particularly the ministers of youth, national security and justice.
The petition indicated a deep concern that Jamaica's approach to addressing the needs of vulnerable children was focused on punishment and confinement rather than rehabilitation and support. It called for a paradigm shift, with JFJ offering several proposals for the Government to implement.
Hanna said she was compelled to respond as some of the information presented in the video was factually incorrect and intellectually dishonest.
According to her: "We have not had any discussions with international human-rights groups. They send questions based on information they have received, and we are required to answer these questions."
The JFJ's petition also called for rehabilitative centres to be created instead of juvenile jails, and Hanna said the ministry had, in fact, moved towards more rehabilitative facilities, including spearheading an art therapy programme dubbed 'Children for Life', where children in state care would be provided with therapeutic outlets through music, dance, art, and other creative art forms.
"And so, I'd be happy for them to come to Jamaica and have a discussion with all of us. They can come to the inter-ministerial with all the stakeholders and we can show them what we are doing and how we are doing it," Hanna proposed.
The minister said she was anxious for the meetings because, "some of the information that is being presented to them is certainly out of context".
Her doors are always opened, she said.
"When it comes to children and youth, I have an open-door policy. Please come, sit down. We can have a hot discussion about it. I have no problems with that," Hanna said.