KINGSTON — To help strengthen the capacity of state agencies and other stakeholders to address and investigate the problem of sexual offences, the Child Development Agency (CDA) on October 31, hosted a workshop at the Alpha Boys Home in Kingston.
Representatives of state homes, the CDA, other institutions that deal with and care for children, as well as practitioners in the court system, participated in the workshop which focused on practical application of the Sexual Offences Act, 2011.
Held under the theme: 'Embracing Change to Enhance Service Delivery', the workshop examined new offences under the Act; the old offences, how the sexual offenders registry will operate, and discussed case scenarios.
Addressing the opening, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the CDA, Carla Francis-Edie, noted the significance of the seminar, pointing out that the Act is being enacted at a time when incest is one of the primary sexual offences children encounter; and when there is a call for the treatment of victims as well as perpetrators of sexual offences; and the strengthening of the capacity of families, and state agencies to cope with the victims of molestation.
Mrs. Francis-Edie told the workshop that three out of 10 households in Jamaica have ‘barrel children’ – a terminology that was coined to describe the phenomenon common to the Caribbean, where parents migrate in search of opportunities, leaving children behind with family members, community members, and even on their own. “These children, in the absence of direct parental supervision, often end up becoming some of the most vulnerable,” she said.
The CEO pointed out that the context in which Jamaica is operating in regards to child rights and sexual offences, is not very different from that of many other countries. “In fact, we are far better off, and way ahead of many other countries, in that Jamaica is not lacking in policies, programmes and legislation, but rather, we falter in application and implementation,” she added.
Therefore, she said the Sexual Offences Act, for the CDA, represents a “victory” in the area of child protection, as there will be greater monitoring of perpetrators and greater security for victims and potential victims.
She explained that, “someone who commits an offence today, in this parish, after serving his/her sentence, cannot just disappear into the general population or move to another area and set up residence without the authorities in that area being aware of his/her history and the nature of the crimes committed."
“What it means is that residents can rest and breathe easier, feel far more secure and reassured in the knowledge that they are far less exposed, because the eyes of the law are trained on predators and are ensuring accountability,” the CEO said.
Mrs. Francis-Edie emphasised that although there are challenges within the child protection system, “there are a lot of things that are right as well, and this law is one of them”. She said it represents a new reality for child protection stakeholders. “Far less of our children will be exposed to exploitation from repeat offenders and nomadic predators, who have, for far too long, taken advantage of the lag in our system,” she added.
The Act provides for, among other things, a Sex Offender Register and Registry, which will be under the daily management of the Commissioner of Corrections, and consist of the particulars of every conviction for a specified offence. The register will keep record of particulars such as the person’s name, aliases, taxpayer registration number, previous convictions, and addresses, among other details.
Offenders will be required to report to specified registration centres, similar to the obligations of persons on bail, or who have ongoing criminal matters before the courts, to report to police stations.
The workshop was conducted by the Investigation Unit in the Delivery of Children and Family Programmes Division, CDA.
By Alphea Saunders, JIS Reporter