A comprehensive response to the controversy surrounding JFJ’s pilot project ‘Healthy Sexual Growth and Development in Marginalised Youth: Rights, Responsibilities and Life Skills’

There has been a significant amount of misrepresentation, speculation, implication, half truths and untruths concerning the project ‘ Healthy Sexual Growth and Development in Marginalised Youth: Rights, Responsibilities and Life Skills.’

The Jamaicans for Justice Board of Directors presents the facts in answer to the questions which have been raised.

1  What was the rationale for embarking on this project?

The HIV and Aids pandemic, which spread so rapidly round the world, has not been conquered in spite of all the money and time spent on it. Adolescents are particularly vulnerable and girls are at very high risk. There are large numbers of sexually active adolescents of both sexes who are involved in transactional sex.

The Caribbean has the fastest growing rate of HIV infection in the 13-19 year old cohort of both male and female adolescents. In Jamaica the average age of sexual initiation is 14.5 years for males and 15.8 years for females

The adolescents who are most vulnerable of all, are those living in poverty, on the street and in institutional care. Many who become wards of state to be cared for by our Government in children’s have experienced sexual abuse or are sexually active. They are at high risk for various sexually transmitted illnesses including HIV infection.

For over a decade, JFJ has worked on a wide range of human rights issues, including the rights and welfare of children in State care and in conflict with the law. Indeed the first case taken to the IACHR in 2003  concerned a child who was abused at a young age, and in turn became a predator at a young age too, which is not uncommon.  Based on the evidence of children’s vulnerability to health risks, JFJ undertook the sexual and reproductive rights programme in six privately run homes. The purpose was to equip children with information they could use to protect themselves against abuse and risky behaviour.

2  Do sexual and reproductive rights exist in international human rights  conventions and other instruments?

Sexual and reproductive rights are internationally recognised. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)(1989) – which Jamaica has ratified – enshrines reproductive rights for children. Moreover, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has emphasized that children’s rights be respected in view of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and specifically mentions the rights to: sex education, preventative health care, and family planning education and services as important.

In addition to signing the UN CRC, Jamaica signed the Programme of Action for Population and Development (1994) which outlined that “full attention should be given to meeting the educational and service needs of adolescents to enable them to deal in a positive and responsible way with their sexuality.” It identifies barriers to reproductive health and rights and states: “Adolescents are particularly vulnerable because of their lack of information and access to relevant services in most countries”

3  Did JFJ stray from its mandate?

The mandate of JFJ is human rights. This includes the right to education and information with which to make responsible, safe, life choices. Many human rights organisations start off being interested in one aspect of human rights, and over the years expand into other areas of human rights. Amnesty International which is the best known human rights organisation in the English speaking world and maybe the whole world, started off with a concern, which it still has, for prisoners of conscience, but now speaks on many issues such as women’s rights, torture, repeal of the death penalty in all countries, police brutality and many more issues.

Similarly, JFJ has over its fifteen years of existence, taken on a range of issues.  JFJ has firmly spoken out about improper behaviour in the ranks of our police force and army,  demanded an inquiry into the abuse of the street people of Montego Bay and also advocated vigorously on behalf of children in children’s homes and lock ups and children being placed in adult prisons.

Some of our work is not widely publicised. For example, our work researching and preparing presentations on matters such as the Caribbean Court of Justice, presenting to the United Nations in Geneva on the state of human rights in Jamaica, taking individual cases of human rights abuses to international forums, training our young police officers in human rights and of course, educating our citizens, young and old, about their rights.

The JFJ programme in the children’s homes was consistent with its demonstrated concern for the welfare of children in state care. It expanded our human rights education outreach into educating children about their sexual and reproductive rights, an area in which they are at risk.

4   Does JFJ have a ‘gay agenda’?

All human rights organisations acknowledge the moral authority of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and accept that all human beings are entitled to the rights embodied in the document and the subsequent Conventions that their governments sign. If a gay person’s human rights are abused, then JFJ has a duty to help. The reader must decide whether that constitutes having a ‘gay agenda’.

Is the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition(CVC) an obscure group with a ‘sinister agenda’?

Founded in 2004, CVC is a Caribbean-wide network of groups and individuals who serve the needs of the region’s populations that are most at risk for contracting HIV/AIDS. These include sex workers, marginalised youth, drug abusers, ex-prisoners and men who have sex with men. CVC is mainly funded by the Global Fund to fight HIV, tuberculosis and malaria and has to properly account for every cent it receives. The Global Fund does sterling work in Jamaica supporting the Jamaican Government and NGOs to deliver the National HIV/AIDS programme which is focused on prevention, treatment and care.

In April 2013, CVC in conjunction with El Centro de Orientacion e Investigacion Integral (COIN) announced funding for projects that addressed HIV/AIDS among men who have sex with men, transgender people, sex workers, marginalised youth and people who use drugs. Organisations in Trinidad, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Guyana and Suriname were invited to submit proposals. JFJ submitted a proposal and was awarded funding in October 2013.

6   Did JFJ sneak the project into the homes through the back door?

No. On the contrary, a formal letter explaining the programme was sent to each home and each of the Boards of the homes then had to give permission for it to be allowed.  When JFJ approached the six children’s homes, the project was welcomed as the Administrators and staff knew how very badly a rights based sex education programme was needed by their very vulnerable children.

The Communication Specialist at JFJ, who was in charge of the project and  one of the facilitators, created a detailed Memorandum of Understanding that each Administrator was asked to sign.

Moreover, far from sneaking the programme into the children’s homes, JFJ was required by the terms of its agreement with CVC, to include advocacy about the project to a wider public. This took the form of three e-newsletters and two newspaper articles.

The first e- newsletter was sent out in May 2014 to key stakeholders including government officials responsible for the well- being of children in state care, child rights NGOs, administrators of privately run children’s homes and stakeholders in the fight to reduce the HIV infection rate.  The subject of the e-newsletter was ‘Healthy Sexual Growth and Development in Marginalised Youth: Rights, Responsibilities and Life Skills’. It was uploaded on to JFJ’s facebook page and also its website. The Jamaica Observer kindly allows JFJ to write two columns a month called ‘Justice for One, Justice for All’ and an edited version of the e-newsletter was used for the second article in May. This was also put on the facebook page. There was little or no reaction to this.

Early in June, the project having been completed rather earlier than planned due to the children having to take examinations, the second e-newsletter was sent out to the same stakeholders. It was called ‘Realising Sexual and Reproductive Health Responsibly’. An edited version entitled ‘JFJ rolls out Children’s Homes Programme’ was published in the Jamaica Observer column and this stirred considerably more interest. There were many sensational headlines but little accurate reporting.

7. Did JFJ bribe the children’s homes?

Although most of the MOU which was signed with the homes was not published, one item was emphasised in the press – JA$10,000.00, paid to the homes which was accounted for in the budget presented to CVC. This amount was given to each home to help offset any expense incurred by JFJ using the premises to provide a programme that went on for 12 sessions. Unfortunately, it was implied by some of the media that this constituted a bribe.  Neither the Boards of the children’s homes nor the administrators, saw this money as a bribe. JFJ did not use this money for the criminal offence of bribery. In the world of NGOs it is considered normal to make sure that hosts are not out of pocket.

In addition to the contribution to offset utility and other costs, JFJ also provided refreshments at each session and, though this was not mentioned in the MOU, each participant got a draw string bag, a pen and either a football or a water bottle each with ‘Human Rights for All’ written on them and also a certificate of participation at the end of the programme.

8. Who selected the children?

Another statement in the MOU that was not emphasised by the press showed that the homes would be responsible for choosing the children who participated and also that the children should be between 13 and 17. Some 12 year olds who would become 13 during the course of the programme were allowed to participate. A very few younger children, who were not interested in the programme, but very interested in the refreshments, had their names recorded at the end of the session so that they were able to have the refreshments. They did not participate in the programme.

9   Was the content of the children’s modules age inappropriate and/or unethical?

No. In developing its programme, JFJ utilized existing, accepted, government produced or disseminated sex and reproductive health education material, primarily the Jamaican Guidelines for Comprehensive Sexuality Education, authored by a national task force that included Famplan, the National Family Planning Board, the Ministry of Health (MOH), the  Jamaica Red Cross and UWI.  3,500 copies of the Guidelines were made available some time ago to schools and tertiary institutions. In addition to the Guidelines, a training manual from Caribbean Vulnerable Communities (CVC) and a Famplan power point presentation were also used as resource material.

In all the homes, the caregivers could, and in most cases, did choose to be present in some or all of the sessions with the children. One home chose not to exercise this right. The caregivers would hardly have allowed anything unethical or inappropriate to take place.

The issue of sex education for children and young adults is emotionally charged for many adults. Many think that if children are not taught  sex education, they will not actually have sex. But the facts are that children are interested and curious about sex.  The average age of initiation for boys is a little over 14 and for girls, it is a little over 15. This means that many children in Jamaica have sex before the age of consent which is 16. There is also a significant amount of transactional sex, in which boys as well as girls, are involved. Children need to know the dangers of various types of sexual behaviour and how to avoid them. If children do not get proper sex education, they will certainly be given information that is not true from their peers or worse still, from the pornography sites on the internet. Sexual predators, both on and off the internet, are also a source of information that can endanger the lives of children.

Sex education does not  encourage children to have sex. Facilitators taught the children that abstinence is the only 100% safe way to guard against infection and avoid pregnancy. The children were encouraged to delay sex and pregnancy until adulthood. The children in the homes were taught refusal skills and what to do if an unwanted advance was made to them. They were taught about what constituted a good touch and a bad touch.  The legal framework concerning vaginal sex and the age of consent was explained. The law concerning anal sex was explained. The facts about the dangers of unprotected sex, be it oral, anal or vaginal, were explained. At no time did the facilitators encourage the children to participate in any kind of sexual activity whatsoever.

Most importantly, the JFJ programme also taught about human rights in general, self-esteem and body image, gender, relationships and communication and decision making skills, but the media didn’t seem very interested in these extremely important aspects of sex education.

10  Should anal sex have been mentioned at all given that it is illegal in Jamaica?

The Ministry of Health/National STI Programme’s public education materials mention the risks of different kinds of unprotected sex including anal sex. It is a responsibility from a public health stand point. Whilst it is true that anal sex is illegal in Jamaica, this fact does not prevent both heterosexual and homosexual persons indulging in the practice. Transactional sex is a harsh reality for many children.

What children need to know are the dangers and health consequences of all forms of unprotected sex and then they can make decisions based on facts. They also need to know, especially the vulnerable children in the children’s homes, that they do not have to suffer in silence, sexual abuse from any source whatsoever. They need to know that they have rights and that there are people and institutions who will protect them.

11  Was the JFJ programme guilty of sexual grooming?

Sexual grooming usually refers to a sexual predator targeting an underage child with a view to using the child sexually. Often the predator uses friendship and gifts to get the child to like/love the predator. The child may be told that the predator loves her/him. Once the child has been seduced, threats of violence to the child and the child’s family, and actual violence may be used to keep the child compliant and silent. The child may also be used by the predator’s friends and may be prostituted as well.

No aspect of the JFJ programme could be credibly said to be sexual grooming.

Sexual grooming of a child was made a criminal offence under Section 9 of the Sexual Offences Act (2009). On I9th June, 2014  an editorial in the Jamaica Observer accused Jamaicans for Justice of sexual grooming. This is completely unacceptable. The Board of Jamaicans for Justice categorically rejects this assertion.

12  Did Famplan need to vet the material used in the children’s modules?

The CEO of Famplan has a cordial relationship with JFJ. When the proposal for the CVC project was being written, Famplan was an obvious choice for training the facilitators and  providing resource materials. At no time was any vetting of the material or signing off on the content to be used in the project, mentioned or agreed upon.

13  Why did JFJ neglect to tell the Child Development Agency(CDA) about the project and ask its permission to run it in the homes?

JFJ believed that having the permission of the leadership of the homes was sufficient. There are no regulations of which we were aware that required us to seek CDA permission as well.

There are regulations requiring the homes to inform the CDA of educational programmes introduced into the homes. Many homes have on-site school for the wards. It is not clear whether the regulations relate to these core programmes or also extends to any and all extra-curricula programmes. It should be noted that the administrators of the homes are all experienced and committed people of great integrity, who daily use their judgement on many issues.

14  Did the homes, the children and the caregivers find the programme beneficial?

Feedback from the participants has been very positive.

The caregivers were happy to learn that they had rights as well as responsibilities and hard work. They wanted to acquire more counselling skills to help the children in their care and generally thought they should get more in the way of training and education.

The children said they had learned a great deal and were sad to see the ladies leave.

The administrators said the project was a great idea and too long in coming.

To JFJ’s knowledge, no comparable government program exists for children’s homes despite the children’s high level of sexual and reproductive health risk and risk of abuse of their rights.

15  What part did Dr. Gomes play?

Carolyn Gomes had only a small role in the process.

In April 2013, while still the JFJ’s Executive Director, she put together a team to create a proposal for the CVC funding, which she vetted and gave suggestions for improvements. She kept the Chair of the Child  Rights Working Committee of JFJ, Mrs Lisa Lahkan- Chen and the Vice -chair Mr Alexis Goffe informed of this by e mail, and the Board was kept informed via written reports about the progress of the proposal and when Dr. Gomes signed the contract with CVC in October 2013. The Board was kept informed by the Communication Specialist in her monthly Communication Report and this practice was continued throughout the entire life of the project.

Dr Gomes approved and signed the letters sent to the homes and approved the MOU. She supervised  and gave suggestions about the two modules which were developed for the caregivers. At the end of December 2013, Dr Gomes resigned her post as Executive Director, but consented to become a Board member.

From January 2014 the modules for the children were created as they were needed, and were under the jurisdiction of the acting ED and then, in  April 2014, were under the jurisdiction of the new ED Ms Kay Osborne.

Dr Gomes has suffered unwarranted attacks and a complete misrepresentation of her role.  As a consequence of the sensationalising of the programme by media, and JFJ Board’s mishandling of the response, her personal and professional reputation have been damaged.

The current Board of JFJ unreservedly apologises to Dr. Gomes for the organisation’s part in the harm that has been done to her reputation.

16   What part did Ms Kay Osborne play?

Ms. Osborne also played a small role in terms of supervising the project. Ms Osborne started her job with JFJ in April 2014 and attended the AGM, where the project was extensively mentioned in the Chairperson’s Report.

Ms Osborne was asked to appear on a television programme – Live at Seven, to discuss the project. She asked to be briefed on the project and this was done by a facilitator and Mr Rodje Malcolm, a Board member.

In that interview on Live at 7 with Simon Crosskill on CVM television, June 6, 2014, Ms. Osborne gave a positive account of the programme saying:  “ We just completed 75, and will complete 100 workshops in children’s homes where we are helping children learn more healthy ways of engaging with their own bodies, learning about their sexuality, about self- esteem and so on, helping them to become better citizens. We are at fault in that we have not tooted our horn as much as we could.”

Because of exams, the homes started to press for a speedy end to the project. One home wanted to cancel the last few sessions, but due to Ms Osborne’s persuasive intervention, the home rescheduled instead and the children were able to get the full benefit of the course.

The project finished in May 2014.

In July 2014 Ms Osborne resigned.

17  Why did the JFJ Board apologise if there was no wrong doing?

The motivations of the seven member majority of the then JFJ Board who authorised the apology are not known definitively. It appears that the controversial spin that the programme was given in the media and the consequent, negative public response might have been a factor.

Unfortunately, the majority of the Board did not meet with the staff who presented the project. They did not speak to the Children’s homes to hear what happened on their premises and they did not accept the views of the minority members who disagreed with the decision.

The JFJ Board meets once a month and did not vet everything that JFJ did especially given the competence of the staff.

The apology astounded and deeply angered some members of the Boards, administrators and the staffs of the children’s homes, the minority members of the JFJ Board and many members of JFJ.

Some members requested an Extra-Ordinary General Meeting, as allowed under the organisations Articles and Memorandum of Association.

All but two of the seven member majority of the Board resigned before the EGM. So too did the Executive Director. On the 29th July a new Board was co-opted which set about trying to set the record straight and repair the damage. This is a work in progress.