JIS News

A Bill titled the ‘Child Care and Protection Act 2003’, which seeks to protect the nation’s children from abuse and neglect by imposing stiff fines for breaches of the Act, was passed in the Senate on Thursday (March 11) with four amendments.
Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Senator A.J. Nicholson who piloted the Bill said that the legislation was a guideline on how to treat children, pointing out that they were often times beset by exposure to conflicting cultural practices, inattention on the part of persons who should be protecting them and by a lack of appreciation for history and security.
“This Bill is not meant to be a panacea for all of or any of those ills by itself. It is not meant to be a substitute for the responsibilities that involve persons with obligations concerning the protection of our children. It is certainly not anything other than guidelines for the implementation of a worldview of how children may be cared for and protected,” he said.
The Justice Minister said the passage of this Bill would allow Jamaica to fulfill its commitment under the Convention of the Rights of the Child, which was ratified by Jamaica in May 1991.
Senator Nicholson said that some of the provisions of the Bill were “groundbreaking,” which he said would serve to enrich and improve upon the system of child protection in Jamaica. Citing some of these provisions, Senator Nicholson said that under the Bill ‘Child’ is now defined as a person under 18 years, which he said was in keeping with the definition of a child worldwide.
He said part one of the Bill spoke to children in need of care and protection, and Clause Four points to the establishment of a Child Advocate. “This Child Advocate is to be a Commission of Parliament and it is meant to represent legal representation of children in Court proceedings. It is to receive complaints and facilitate complaints from children, including financial assistance,” he said.
Continuing he said, “it is to have the power of investigation into infringement of children’s rights by Government agencies and to keep under review the adequacy and effectiveness of law and practise relating to the rights and best interest of the child.”
The Justice Minister said that this was another institution that would deal with social based legislation and approaches. There will also be the establishment of a Central Registry for the reporting of abuse of children.
Clause six of the Bill, he noted, called for mandatory reporting. Explaining, he said: “All persons (under the Act) have a duty to make a report to the Registry. We have to understand this, that in the protection of children, it may very well be that we are moving away from the traditional route that if you see something happening there is no duty resting on you to make a report”.
He however, pointed out that the Bill compelled such person to do so. “We believe and the International community is moving in that direction for the protection of our children. If we see and know that certain things are happening to them and we remain silent there may be a matter (where) persons (will have) to answer to.”
Senator Nicholson stressed that persons were bound to report the matter once they had reasonable cause to suspect that a child had been abandoned, neglected, physically or sexually mistreated or was otherwise in need of care or protection.
“Failure to report as under Section 6 (ii) may attract a conviction before Resident Magistrate Court for a fine not exceeding $500,000 or to imprisonment of a term not exceeding six months or to both such fine and imprisonment,” he explained.
Meanwhile, the Bill also imposes a fine of $100,000 or three months imprisonment for false report to the Registry.
On the issue of cruelty to children, the Act imposes a fine not exceeding $500,000 or to imprisonment with hard labour, if an adult who has custody, charge or care of a child wilfully assault, physically and mentally ill-treat, neglect, abandoned or exposed a child to suffer any of the above.
The Act also penalizes persons who sell or traffic children and imposes a fine of $50,000 or imprisonment with hard labour not exceeding three months.
The Bill also addresses child labour, begging, prostitution, and sale of intoxication liquor or tobacco products to or by a child. Senator Nicholson said that the Act prohibited employment of children under age 13, and restriction on employment of children over 13 years who had not reached the age of 15 years.
Making his contribution to the debate, State Minister in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, Senator Floyd Morris said, “this (Bill) is regarded as another landmark piece of legislation. which is long overdue but it has been subjected to the widest level of consultation and participation.”
He said that the legislation was objective as it “provides a critical role for the children in the decision making process of their homes and families. It is what I regard as further democratization of the family,” he said.
Also supporting the Bill was Opposition Senator Norman Horne who said: “The appointment of a Child Advocate as a legal representative for the child as provided for in Section Four of the Act, must be applauded.”
He also welcomed the provision in the Bill, which sought to prosecute those who abused and neglected “our children”, but argued that the Act failed to address the liabilities of State agencies and the officials who had responsibility for children in state custody.
“If this issue is not addressed we will see the repeat of the abuse and neglect of our children going once again unchecked,” he said.
Responding to this, Senator Nicholson said that in terms of “accountability on the part of the State, we agree with you. We note however, that there are provisions, which attach certain penalties to certain agents of the State who don’t carry out their functions”.

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