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Human-rights group ready to defend court-bound kids

Published:Friday | February 26, 2010 | 12:00 AM
Arlene Harrison Henry, chairman of the human-rights group, Jamaican Council for Human Rights (IJCHR)

Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter

THE INDEPENDENT Jamaican Council for Human Rights (IJCHR) has offered its legal assistance, free of charge, to families of children before the courts.

"It is something that ought to have been taken on a long time ago," Arlene Harrison Henry, chairman of the human-rights group, told
The Gleaner

"We are not suggesting that we can take on every case but we will be providing assistance, particularly in the most needy circumstances," she added.

Data contained in a special report to Parliament on children in lock-ups, which was prepared by the Office of the Children's Advocate, said 46 juveniles were in police custody in October 2009.

The commitment of the IJCHR comes days after the report of the commission of enquiry into the deadly Armadale fire was leaked to the media.

Not yet public

The report, which has not been made public by Government, says the state failed the wards who were being held at the Armadale Juvenile Correctional Centre, St Ann, seven of whom perished in the fire last May.

Recent reports from the Office of the Children's Advocate, as well as a report from the United Nations rapporteur on torture, have painted damning pictures of the way Jamaica deals with children in state care.

The Office of the Children's Advocate, in its report to Parliament, said "the best interests of many of the children who come into contact with the court system are not taken into account".

However, it is not just the court system which is of major concern to groups like the IJCHR which has focused on the leaked report into the Armadale fire.

The report said: "There were breaches of duty and administrative errors by the Department of Correctional Services, indifferent and insensitive actions by public officials, troubled and unruly girls further traumatised by uncaring adults, unjust treatment of girls, impulse and unlawful action by a police officer and the absence of any structured safety system in an emergency at Armadale."

"Those factors, among others, combined with the negligent actions of the public officials, made inevitable the tragedy of Armadale," Harrison Henry concluded.