More calls made for harsher punishment for child abusers

MORE calls have been made for harsher and swifter punishment for perpetrators of sexual and other types of vicious crimes against children, in the wake of assaults on minors in recent weeks.

Officials of the National Parent Teachers’ Association of Jamaica (NPTAJ) say it is time for tougher laws and that cases involving abuse of children need to be prioritised in the court system.

“Tougher laws are required for greater enforcement of the laws that exist. Enforcing tougher laws on perpetrators should act as a further deterrent because somehow what currently exists doesn’t seem to be sufficient to stop them from doing these dastardly acts, and its really concerning,” head of the NPTAJ Mitzie Harris Dillon said this week at Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange.

Harris Dillon said current fines and penalties in the Child Care and Protection Act of 2004 do not appear to be stringent enough to curtail the incidences of violence against children. “[They are] not even enough to give the perpetrators pause to think about attempting such gruesome acts. So harsher penalties and increased fines are needed, in keeping with the times,” she said.

She argued, too, that no victim should have to wait years for a court mention date, especially traumatised children. “Some of these heinous acts deserve life in prison, and the existing fines need to be at least doubled,” she told the Observer .

Chief executive officer of the Child Protection and Family Services Agency Rosalee Gage-Grey, meanwhile, is concerned that matters involving attacks on and abuse of the nation’s children aren’t moved quickly enough through the courts. “I want to see more persons being prosecuted; we want to see more persons being held accountable and prosecuted. You can always increase the fines and the custodial sentences, but just to get the cases before the court and have them go through…,” she said.

Ava Bigsby Edmund, acting treasurer of the NPTAJ, said there should be no holding back on penalties for child abuses. “There are so many other options and most times the persons who are hurting our children have opportunities to have meaningful relationships with adults; so why go to our children? Punish them to the utmost.”

She argued that some parents should be held accountable in circumstances such as those where they are aware of and accommodate relationships between a minor and an adult.

The 2004 Child Care and Protection Act (CCPA) has been under review for the better part of 10 years, with one of the considerations being to impose stiffer penalties for egregious abuses of children. The CCPA places the main duty of care and protection of children on parents, whether they live in the same home as the child. Step-parents, guardians, adoptive parents, and other persons responsible for children also bear responsibility to care for and protect them.

Among the current offences are failing to report known or suspected abuse of a child, or that a child is in need of care, and protection. This attracts a fine of $500,000 or six months imprisonment.

Opposition spokesman on youth Angela Brown Burke told the Observer that the recent atrocities against girls are stark reminders of the need to expedite the updating of some of the laws that have been languishing, such as the CCPA.

“I believe that at this point we need to ensure that it comes to fruition and we take it through all its stages so that we can have an updated and modern Bill to protect our children. The last couple of weeks have really been heart-rending just to hear the stories and to see what’s happening. We have to find a way to protect our girls,” she said.

Parliamentarians, she said, need to ensure that the necessary legislation to protect children are completed.

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