UNICEF backs ‘no prison for uncontrollable children’

The Government’s plan to amend the Child Care and Protection Act, 2004, to remove the provision under which a child deemed “uncontrollable” can be placed in a correctional facility by the court is being supported by United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Education, Youth and Information Minister Fayval Williams recently announced that a Cabinet submission has been drafted to amend Section 24 of the Child Care and Protection Act under which a judge may make a correctional order in respect of a child brought before the court.

According to Williams, the amendment will remove the discretion of judges to place children who have not committed a crime in penal institutions and replace it with an option for the court to make a therapeutic order.

The proposed amendment received the approval of Janet Cupidon Quallo, child protection specialist at UNICEF, during this week’s Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange.

Cupidon Quallo argued that some people are of the view that a correctional facility is the solution for a child who displays uncontrollable behaviour.

“We find sometimes that [some] people think that a child who is acting out just needs a ‘good lick’, or they need to be locked up in a juvenile correctional centre or [think that] a few months in a juvenile correctional centre will straighten them out,” said Cupidon Quallo.

“Very often kids who end up in juvenile correctional centres are abused children who are experiencing mental health problems. It is a complicated issue and one which requires us to change our thinking and our attitudes about what mental health really is,” added Cupidon Quallo.

State minister in the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information Robert Morgan, who has been leading the charge for the legislative change, has repeatedly argued that children should not be sent to penal institutions if they did not commit a crime.

“What we are trying to do is change how the society and the State systems see children. There is a culture out there where the babies are ornaments, toddlers and teenagers are means of income for some people, and the adults are pension, which is why we are having a ‘Good parenting’ campaign where people understand that children are human beings who have rights,” Morgan declared during a meeting of the Jamaica Observer Press Club last Friday.

“If you assume that children have rights, then you would not be using violence as a means of instruction. If you assume that children have rights, then unless a child is charged with a crime, then you would not lock that child up in a penal institution,” added Morgan.

He pointed to instances of misbehaviour by children which would be construed as criminal acts if they are sent to a penal institution.

“If you decided to leave your mother’s house or leave your family home and disappear for a day, you have not committed a crime. In some cases, a child may run away from their parent’s home and the parent takes them to the court and say, ‘I cannot manage this child’.

“The judge now has a discretion to say, ‘Well, since you cannot control this child, I’m going to use my discretion to send this child to Metcalfe [Juvenile Centre] or wherever. We are saying that we should replace that discretion with the requirement of a therapeutic order, where we are now going to look at why the child is running away,” said Morgan.

He added: “Children run away for two reasons, they are either running away from something or running towards something. In many cases, we have found that there is abuse, whether in the community or in the home.”

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