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Chief Justice, Hon. Zaila McCalla, says that the various agencies that have responsibility for dealing with children in the justice system must be vigilant in safeguarding their rights as mandated by the Child Care and Protection Act.

She was addressing the Kingston and St. Andrew Family Court Parent Month exposition on November 30, 2012 at the Jamaica Conference Centre.

The Chief Justice made the remarks even as she acknowledged that the authorities were having a challenge in housing the number of youngsters in children’s homes and lockups, which she said, “is increasing at such an alarming rate."

She said that the courts are also experiencing challenges, because in many instances, parents are not willing to live up to their responsibilities. She said they are seeking instead, to put those responsibilities on the authorities.

Nevertheless, the Chief Justice said that judges in the Children’s Court must be astute enough to realise that many children, who face them as offenders, are in fact, victims of abuse by adults and sometimes their parents, which influences their behavioural problems.

She noted that the judiciary has to be sensitised on how to deal with children in court and the psychological impact that it has on them. She informed that a number of seminars and workshops have been held on the matter.

“I have been encouraging judges for example, that when you have victims and you have witnesses, you have to be careful to see that they are not kept together. The person, who has offended the child or molested a child should not be in the same space with that child… seeing that person causes the child to be traumatized. Sometimes the smell of the person causes the child to be traumatised, seeing the person in the community after the offence has occurred causes trauma to the child,” she stated. 

She commended the Victim Support Unit in the Ministry of Justice for the role it has been playing in educating the judiciary on the traumatising effect of the court system on children.  She also expressed support for the new Parenting Policy, noting that “we need information and knowledge of what constitutes good parenting. We need to get back to basics”.

Guest speaker at the event was Convener of Hear The Children’s Cry, Betty-Ann Blaine, who encouraged parents to be good stewards of their children. She noted that if parents get it right the first time by instilling good family values, then most of the problems that the country now faces would be a thing of the past.

Mrs. Blaine also urged the children to work hard and graduate from school, telling them that teenage pregnancy was a passport to poverty. 

Also addressing the exposition was Principal Executive Officer of the Court Management Services (CMS), Deborah Gardener, who pledged continued support to the Family Court and the Family Court Attendance Centre. Mrs. Gardener described the court as a “beacon of hope” in the country, noting that the preventative aspect of the court’s work was very important.

The event received full support from parents, judges and staff of the Family Court system, students of the Family Court Attendance Centre and members of the public. Several pieces of craft work such as carvings, pillows and pillow cases, created by the children, were also on display.