Sun | Feb 5, 2023

LETTER OF THE DAY - From Agana Barrett to Armadale - a continuum

Published:Friday | February 26, 2010 | 12:00 AM

The Editor
, Sir:

Many years ago, I attended an international conference. At the end of the first day's session, I was approached by the delegate from the Ukraine who was full of compliments about the way Jamaica takes care of its children.

"Have you been to Jamaica?" I asked, surprised at her comments.

"No" she replied, "...but you have an ambassador for children. An ambassador for children!" she said with excitement. Then added, "I know of no other country that takes the welfare of their children so seriously."

I busied myself freshening her drink.

The nation is well and truly angry about Armadale. Some think the top brass should be fired. Others think they should be fired at. My fear is that they will be replaced and then it will be business as usual. For the horrible conditions and the sadistic abuse has been going on for years, and continues. Many people have known this for many years and have said nothing.

Almost 200 years ago, the horrible conditions in the workhouses in Britain caused Charles Dickens to write
Oliver Twist
. But even then, the children did not have to use their hands to eat, and were not required to defecate on newspapers in cramped conditions and keep it till the next day.

Separated from society in a 'closed' environment, children are desperately vulnerable. Things have already gone badly wrong in their homes for them to end up in institutions. These places should be welcoming, friendly centres away from home, where their fractured lives can begin to heal. This is a job for specially trained personnel. What has been done to them is tantamount to a butcher being handed a dull axe and told to perform delicate surgery.

Over the past two years, I have made five attempts to get these children's agencies to intervene when I have observed children being the subject of continuing, excruciating abuse. They have never acted. So our children are damned if they are at home, and damned if they are at 'Armadale'.

'Limited resources' excuse

Many of the Artful Dodgers hide behind this, 'we had limited resources' excuse. We know that. There will never be adequate resources for this purpose because children cannot vote! Kindness, caring and compassion do not require one cent to be added to the budget. These are what these poor, wretched souls hunger and thirst after, more than food.

The problem I have is not just that monsters always seem to end up around our children. It's that this is the terrible way all of us seem to treat each other. It is the same self-loathing which causes half of us to use harsh chemicals to lighten our skin and the other half to explore subtler means of achieving the same objective that manifests itself in the cruelty perpetrated on these children. For cruelty is a symptom, a sign that something is wrong spiritually and emotionally in a person.

The effect of cruelty on a child can have profound consequences in their adult lives. I wonder how many of the cold killers we have terrorising our country honed their mental skills in these 'homes'.

I would ask that the following be considered when remedial action is contemplated:

Representatives of NGOs should be given authority to make unscheduled visits - day or night and be free to inspect, interview and advise wards.

Strengthen the legislative framework to send a clear message to abusive or neglectful parents that Government is serious about the protection of children. Mothers cannot father children and we must find and expose the 'wutlis puppas' - some of whom hold prominent positions in society.

Check the qualifications of persons presently employed at these homes to ensure that they are not there simply because they have a friend in some influential position.

We need to understand that Armadale was inevitable, because we, the people, did nothing about Agana (Barrett) who, along with two others, suffocated in a police cell while in the custody of the state.

I am, etc.,


Stony Hill

Kingston 9