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Gomes goes - JFJ apologises for sex education course, former executive director quits board

Published:Wednesday | June 18, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Dr Carolyn Gomes

Jermaine Francis & Gary Spaulding, Gleaner Writers

With concerns mounting yesterday over the involvement of Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) in an explicitly worded sex-education programme, the human-rights lobby's former executive director, Dr Carolyn Gomes, has resigned as a member of its board.

JFJ has also rushed to apologise for the inclusion of the controversial content in the training course it implemented in six private children's homes eight months ago.

Word of Gomes' departure came after a meeting with the JFJ board, which accepted her resignation.

When contacted yesterday for a response to the issues surrounding the sex education course, Gomes curtly replied in a text to The Gleaner: "I am not authorised to speak for JFJ."

In April 2013, Gomes negotiated and signed the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities (CVC) Coalition contract for the contentious programme in her capacity as JFJ executive director.

In this role, Gomes, who now heads the CVC, reportedly had responsibility for developing the programme's content; negotiating the partnership agreements with the Jamaica Family Planning Association (FAMPLAN) and with the children's homes' administrators; and rolling it out to the facilities.

She was also responsible for all the administrative functions the programme required.

Gomes supervised the programme until her resignation as JFJ executive director in December 2013.

The latest events, including the JFJ's apology, come nearly a month after the May conclusion of the controversial course.

It was previously believed that the course had been scheduled to be completed next month, leading Youth Minister Lisa Hanna to, on Monday, order its immediate halt.

JFJ-SPEARHEADED INITIATIVE

The CVC Coalition, which serves as the umbrella group for the project, has also responded to the furore, which began with a Sunday Gleaner report and continued when The Gleaner yesterday revealed elements of the course that were being taught to state wards age 12 to 18.

While it stressed that neither the Global Fund nor the CVC Coalition dictates the final training curriculum of any project, the organisation said in a release over the names of Veronica Cenac, a CVC board member, and John Waters, the group's co-chair, that the project was implemented by JFJ, with funding from the CVC under the PANCAP Global Fund Project.

"Neither the Global Fund nor CVC dictates the final training curriculum of any project," the coalition said in the release.

"The CVC component of the PANCAP Global Fund Project (Phase 1) has already been evaluated independently and adjudged to be of the highest standard in addressing the critical determinants among populations vulnerable to the HIV epidemic. The project has been commended for its work with vulnerable groups by the Office of the Inspector General of the Global Fund to Fight Tuberculosis, Malaria, and HIV."

JFJ ACCEPTS RESPONSIBILITY

Yesterday, the JFJ unreservedly apologised for the controversial material injected into the curriculum titled 'The Healthy Sexual Growth and Development in Marginalised Youth: Rights, Responsibilities, and Life Skills'.

"Following recent media discussions that JFJ has been providing age-inappropriate content to children in six children's homes … the JFJ Board of Directors accepts full and unconditional responsibility for not vetting the programme content and its release," stated the JFJ in a statement late yesterday.

The human-rights group said it has also extended an apology to its programme partner, FAMPLAN, which, it stated, was unaware of the inclusion of the controversial material.

"We also apologise to our other stakeholders for not first clearing with them the programme content prior to its release," the release stated.

JFJ claimed it acknowledged that a breakdown in its "usually scrupulous in-house vetting regime" had occurred.

"JFJ wishes to assure the public and its stakeholders that immediate safeguards have been reinstituted to mitigate against any recurrence of the kind," the release stated.

The JFJ said it was continuing an internal review of the entire matter and would, at the earliest opportunity, advise the public as to the result of the review and the remedial action that would be implemented.

Yesterday, civic group Jamaica Coalition for a Healthy Society said it was "incensed, but not surprised, at the recent news reports of unsolicited and unauthorised interventions by JFJ and the CVC in several Jamaican children's homes".

I am not authorised to speak for JFJ.