The Chief Justice, the Hon Zaila McCalla, has underscored the need for a ‘child friendly’ justice system, guaranteeing effective implementation of children’s rights provisions, at the highest possible level.
She contended that this was necessary to ensure that proceedings, involving children, conform to the requirements of relevant international instruments to which Jamaica is party or signatory.
She was addressing Thursday’s (March 10) presentation of the Office of the Children’s Advocate’s (OCA) findings of its study, ‘Profile of Children in Conflict with the Law’.
Noting that the safety, security and survival of Jamaica’s children have been under threat for a long time, Mrs. McCalla lamented the high incidence of crimes committed by children in recent years.
She also bemoaned reports of children, invariably, recruited by criminals in their communities. She said that boys who drop out of school become easy prey for criminals, as the involvement in crime is seen as a way to obtain the power and recognition denied at home.
“Children are basically good, (but) mostly, they turn out to be otherwise because of parental neglect, negative influences and bad environment,” she said.
Alluding to a seminar on children’s rights jointly staged, last November, by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Ministry of Justice for judges, Mrs. McCalla recalled that one of the points raised was that children coming into contact with the justice system, as victims, offenders or witnesses, should be handled with “special care” because of their vulnerability.
She said that international standards require promotion of the establishment of laws, procedures and institutions that respect the rights of children in conflict with the law, and are directed to their rehabilitation and reintegration into society.
“If, for example, our courts and correctional and other facilities are designed to accommodate adults only, they will lack the capacity to adequately address several issues, as they relate to the rehabilitation of the child and will, more likely, harm than improve a child’s chances for rehabilitation and reintegration into society,” she argued.
The Chief Justice pointed to challenges to efforts to establish a child friendly justice, consistent with the stipulations and provisions of the relevant instruments
“However, we continue to be committed to making the most of the current situation, even as we strive to identify and address the many issues which are of great concern,” she stated.
Mrs. McCalla pointed to some areas for improvement which could be implemented “at limited financial cost” adding that, very often, it is a question of changing the mentality and attitude of professionals working in contact with children.
She noted, for example, that even if there is no separate space for children before the court on criminal charges, as well as those who are victims, a special space within the court itself could be allocated for them.
“These are all issues to which we, as judges, must be sensitized,” she suggested.
Mrs. McCalla asserted that implementation of a child-friendly justice system is contingent on collaboration among all relevant stakeholders, inclusive of the police, prosecutors, probation and aftercare officers, judges and magistrates, and all agencies which come in contact with children on a regular basis.
The “Profile of Children in Conflict with the Law”, commissioned by OCA in 2010, is in keeping with the agency’s mandate to keep under review the adequacy and effectiveness of laws and practices relating to the rights and best interests of children, and services provided by the relevant authorities.
The objectives of the study were to: review international conventions and laws that offer responses to Children in Conflict with the Law (CCL), provide a profile of the CCL in Jamaica and offer recommendations for prevention and rehabilitation.
Mrs. McCalla commended and endorsed OCA’s initiative, pointing out that the information gathered in the study will enhance effectiveness in the performance of the judges, as they seek to ensure that the best interest of the children is considered at all times.
CONTACT: DOUGLAS McINTOSH