A draft document on a curfew for school children in uniform, under the Ananda Alert System, has been developed by the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM).
The proposals were introduced at a meeting on Ananda Alert, at the office of the Department of Local Government, Hagley Park Road, Kingston, yesterday (Feb 23) by Civil Military Cooperation Officer at the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF), Major Charlene Steer, who chaired the sub-committee on the curfew proposals.
Minister of State in the OPM with responsibility for Local Government, Robert Montague, whose department has responsibility for the development of the system, told JIS News that the document is to be circulated to stakeholders and will form the basis of a White Paper to be tabled in Parliament.
Prime Minister Bruce Golding, late last year, called for the recommendations of a task force on child abuse prevention he had established, including for the alert system, to form the basis of measures to address the crisis of violence against children.
Minister of State in the Office of the Prime Minister, with responsibility for Local Government, Robert Montague (right), in discussion with Staff Officer, Civil Military Co-operation, Jamaica Defence Force, Major Charlene Steer, at a meeting held by stakeholders of the Ananda Alert System, at the Department of Local Government, on Hagley Park Road, in Kingston, on February 23.
According to Major Steer, the proposals are for a three-tiered uniform curfew intervention policy, aimed at protecting school children under the age of 18 years.
She said that the first step in the system would be to establish trained uniformed wardens.
“These persons must be employed for that specific role. We should have observers trained and appointed to watch,” Major Steer said.
She explained that a Tier One (Congenial Contact) response would run from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
“The first intervention is pretty calm, the person is not invasive, and they may just go and have a conversation just to feel out: why are you here, how are you doing and basically just be comfortable that the person is not in danger,” Major Steer said.
“As you know most schools have shift systems, so we are trying to establish what would be a suitable time period to become really concerned,” she added.
Tier 2 response (Firm Contact) would be established 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., when the uniform curfew warden would approach children in uniform in numbers of three or less, and establish a firm presence and tone. Detailed information would be recorded and forwarded to the school or the Parent Teachers Association (PTA).
“So, we will not only record (the information) but, for this level, you bring that information to the school that we notice that students from that school are on the road at this time of the day, and they could not explain why they were lingering on the road,” Major Steer stated.
The Third Tier Response (Disciplinary Response) would be established after 8:00 p.m., when the uniform curfew warden will escort any child in uniform to a holding area, where the intervention will be documented, and from where they can be picked up by the parent/guardian, or the state will make provision to escort/transport the child home.
In his comments, Mr. Montague said that the proposed 8:00 p.m. cut off time could be “a little bit early”, because children may be legitimately on the streets at 8 p.m. coming from extra lessons.
“So we might have to look again at the eight o’clock hour but, then again, where do you draw the line, where is the balance? Because, if you say 10 p.m., some people might say that is too late, some people might say it is too early,” Mr. Montague argued.
He added it is hoped that the Municipal Police attached to each Parish Council would be used as the uniform wardens.
“But, we are not there yet to definitively say yes, it would be vested with the Municipal Police as wardens, or we will employ specific wardens for specific areas. We are not there yet,” Mr. Montague said.
The Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC), will also be playing its part in ensuring the safety of the children. Marketing and Sales Manager at the JUTC, Lenworth Simms, said that at the point where the child is confirmed as missing, the JUTC will get the information that is being sent from Digicel, which is also supporting the effort.
“We will get the same information as the police, because we intend to post photographs of the missing children with the information of name, statistics, last seen where, wearing what, in slots in the buses. However, our main challenge, as we have been working on this project, is to determine the best configurations for displaying these photographs in the buses,” he said.
“The good thing is that we just got 50 new buses with what, I would say, (are) ready made slots that can be used. So it is going to be easier for us to roll this out in the new buses, while we still work on the best configuration in the old buses,” Mr. Simms noted.
Corporate Communications Manager at the JUTC, Reginald Allen, pointed out that the proposed use of the buses to display pictures of missing children requires a broad outlay.
“In the long term it is intended to have multiple slots so, in essence, you don’t have to be in the front of the bus to necessary see it,” he said.
A pilot project of the Ananda Alert System will be held on Friday, February 27 at the Bethesda Gospel Hall, Smatt Road, Port Antonio, Portland beginning at 2:00 p.m.
It is also hoped that the Ananda Alert System will be launched in March.
Ananda Alert, is a nationwide missing children emergency network modelled after the United States’ Ananda Alert and inspired by the death of 11-year-old Ananda Dean, whose mutilated body was found in bushes in Kingston, almost two weeks after she disappeared from her home last September.