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The Ministry of Justice, received Children in Court- Court Prep Resource Kits from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on Thursday March 8, which are geared towards teaching children about the court environment.

The unique Resource Kits include a model Court house and therapeutic play materials.

Speaking at the handing over ceremony, at the Ministry’s headquarters in Kingston, Portfolio Minister, Senator the Hon. Mark Golding said the materials will improve the way children interact with the court system.

“A courtroom is not a natural environment for a child, it is a very formal process with very serious adults dealing with very serious business and so it is not surprising that children find it particularly intimidating environment in which they are expected to provide evidence,” he said.

He said it is “important and gratifying” that UNICEF and CUSO-VSO International have partnered with the Ministry to “help us to make that experience less traumatic and one in which the children can easily play the role in which they are being asked to play in the courts…whether as witnesses, (or) complaints”.

Mr. Golding said the programme is part of a broader strategy to deal with child justice in the country.

“We are pursuing a Child Diversion Policy which we are rolling out a two year programme with the support of UNICEF to try and find ways in which we will be able to divert children who really have no proper place in the criminal justice system but may have fallen afoul of the law in ways which do not require incarceration…to find other avenues by which their cases can be dealt with,” he explained.

He added that this will reduce the burden on the courts. In 2010, some 4785 children (under the age of 18) were brought before the courts charged with various offences.

Of this number males constituted 76 per cent. The five main offences for which children were charged were: uncontrollable/ disorderly conduct (10. 7 per cent); possession of offensive weapons (8.7 per cent); wounding (6.1 per cent); assault occasioning actual bodily harm (5.3 per cent); and dangerous drugs (5.2 per cent).

The vast majority of children appearing before the courts in 2010 were there in need of ‘Care and Protection’ (16.7 per cent). The majority of these (65 per cent) were females.

UNICEF’s Representative in Jamaica,  Robert Fuderich said the kits will help children visualize the experiences of the court and will allow them to tell their stories.

The Children-in-Court Prep Programme is being implemented in collaboration with the Victim Support Unit through ongoing programme activities and the Office of the Children’s Advocate (OCA) through its research activities.

The Children in Court – Court Prep Programme is supported by the National Plan of Action for Child Justice 2010-2014 strategic objective, which points to the need for measures aimed at assisting the young, vulnerable or intimidated witness in giving evidence to be implemented.

                                                           

By Chris Patterson, JIS Reporter