HONOURABLE MINISTERS HANNA AND BUNTING, WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE DEATH OF A CHILD AT HORIZON ADULT REMAND CENTRE?
Thursday, November 22, 2012, Kingston, Jamaica – Once again another child, 16 year old Vanessa Wint, has perished while under the care of the Jamaican state. As a nation we must all be devastated by the news of the death of a child, reportedly by suicide, at the Horizon Adult Remand Centre last night.
The Jamaican Government continues to preside over the illegal and inhumane practice of placing children in adult correctional facilities. Gazetting an adult remand centre or prison as a juvenile correctional facility does not make the facility into a juvenile correctional facility, nor does it absolve the Government of its legal and moral responsibility to protect the rights of the children in its care and to ensure their separation in every way from adult remandees.
Children in conflict with the law are vulnerable children, often in need of special support – medical, psychological, educational, social. The Jamaican state is systematically breaching the rights of these children to the care and support that they require and that local and international law prescribe.
We have known since the UNICEF report of 1997 that our children were being abused by those who had the responsibility to protect them. We have known since 2004 and the publication of the Keating report, that the abuse was continuing and our children were being damaged by those who were paid to protect them. We have known since the Armadale fire of 2009 and the subsequent Commission of Enquiry report by Justice Harrison, that some of the abuse of our children by agents of the state amounts to criminal negligence. And yet those with responsibility to protect our children continue to subject them to abuse or turn a blind eye to the ongoing problem.
In 2012 the responsibility for the death of this 16- year old girl is on:
Our Child Development Agency – which continues to turn a blind eye to the abuse of children committed by its own employees, continues to fail the nation’s children in need of care and protection, and attempts to wash its hands of any responsibility for those who are in conflict with the law. Children do not cease to be children because they are in conflict with the law. Indeed, their need for care and protection increases as a particularly vulnerable group of children.
Our Minister of Youth – who has failed to ensure that the agencies in her Ministry provide vulnerable children with the help and support they deserve, failed to protect the children from abuse at the hands of her agents and is making plans to further institutionalize the abusive practice of incarcerating juveniles in need of care and protection, those on remand and those convicted of offences together with adult female convicts by transferring the women and girls now housed at Fort Augusta women’s prison to the South Camp Road facility.
Our Office of the Children’s Advocate –which must act NOW with the full powers invested in that office to protect the rights of this vulnerable population and to hold the Government accountable for its continued breach of their rights.
Our Minister of National Security – who cannot wash his hands of his responsibility for the children in adult correctional facilities, juvenile correctional facilities and police lock-ups. The public has been told that he is the Minister directly responsible for their care. He needs to account for this responsibility and for his failure to insist that the Child Development Agency and the Ministry of Youth support the Correctional Services in ensuring the provision of appropriate services to children incarcerated in correctional facilities.
Our Judges – The members of the judiciary who continue to order the placing of children in adult correctional facilities cannot wash their hands of the responsibility for these children nor can Magistrates who fail to routinely monitor police lock ups. The conditions in which they are kept and the abuse to which they are exposed and subjected are a breach of their rights. Judges should not be a party, unwittingly or otherwise, to the continued breach of the rights of these children.
We cannot and will not accept ‘lack of resources’ as an excuse for the failure to obey the law and protect our children as practiced by the responsible agencies and individuals. If we can find $60 million to buy cars for Government Ministers we can and MUST find the resources necessary to protect our most vulnerable children. Not even the death of our children seems to be enough to make our Government move with urgency to correct the systemic breaches of the rights of children within the correctional services, children in conflict with the law. The death of the seven girls in the fire at Armadale in 2010 has not been sufficient. Will the death of this child at Horizon Remand be enough?
Jamaicans for Justice demands that an urgent investigation be carried out into the death of the child at Horizon and whoever is responsible must be held accountable. Jamaicans for Justice demands that ALL children in state care and in correctional facilities be provided with routine psychiatric care. Jamaicans for Justice demands that ALL children are removed from police lock ups and adult correctional facilities now. Jamaicans for Justice demands that the relevant Ministers, the Children’s Advocate and the Child Development Agency start to obey the law and provide the protection for our children that is their mandate. NO MORE children must die before those responsible for their protection properly carry out their duty to these children.