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Children’s Rights in Jamaica, Part II

October 4, 2011

by Jaevion Nelson

This post builds on my first entry, which looks at the pressing issue of children’s rights in Jamaica through the case of the 2009 Armadale fire in St Ann, Jamaica.

Far-reaching political declarations come by all too often. But witnessing the societal application of a specific public policy is an entirely different thing. A case in point is the Child Care and Protection Act (CCPA) of 2004, which came about as a result of Jamaican ratification of the 1991 Convention of the Rights of the Child.

Certain obligations of CCPA included: establishing new organizations like the Office of the Children’s Registry to monitor the care and protection of children; providing special help to children to children who need it; and protecting all children from abuse and neglect.

With little background knowledge of CCPA and other regulations on children’s state homes in Jamaica, I was grateful to receive a grant to work with empowering youth at a state-run home in the town of St. Elizabeth. The grant was awarded by the Environmental Foundation of Jamaica (EFJ) and was given to the Caribbean Youth Summit Association (CYSA)—an organization where I served as chairman at the time. With 27 boys at this St. Elizabeth facility, the goal was to increase awareness of the unique circumstances that each boy faced within the state child protection system.

My conclusion: many of the boys were inappropriately placed. There was one boy with a physical disability living with others who had criminal backgrounds or were in need of care and protection. The state-run facilities and provisions were inadequate, particularly at such a crucial stage in child development.

A lack of computers, empty library shelves, dirty walls, and unqualified supervisors were just a few of the stark insufficiencies. In fact, the CYSA team only observed one teacher who was giving instruction on skills training. Boys complained that they were underfed and deprived of basic necessities. Staff had “favorite children”—and gifts for the boys weren’t always handed over to their intended recipients. Any reasonable person would agree that something was gravely wrong and no child should be subjected to these conditions.

I later learned through the nongovernmental organization Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) that the CCPA regulations provide few substantive guidelines for the direction and oversight of operations in Jamaica’s 57 child residential facilities “to address the care, safety and welfare of the children themselves.” JFJ has referred to the attention paid by the authorities toward the CCPA home regulations as “woefully inadequate.”

Shocked by the conditions, I followed up with the government agency on children’s homes, the Child Development Agency (CDA), where officials assured me that everything was in good condition. The Office of the Children’s Advocate (OCA)—the government institution responsible for ensuring CCPA’s implementation—had promised to develop an assessment report. But later I found out that managers at the children’s home told OCA what to write in the report following their investigation.

There are far too many allegations of abuse and mistreatment of our children and very little mention of the actions taken to absolve them. It just shows, regrettably, the wide discrepancy between a law’s intention and how it is implemented in practice.

There need to be more safeguards and fewer loopholes in these types of legislation, especially as Jamaica undergoes its aggressive Vision 2030 growth and development strategy. My experience at the children’s house shows how a good idea is only as good as the follow through in its implementation.

This is the second entry in a three-part series of blog posts. Look for the final blog post coming soon.

Tags: Social inclusion, Jamaica

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