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News and Views by Dionne Jackson Miller

pointed commentary on current affairs in Jamaica and the Caribbean

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Crime

Shocking Attack on Press Freedom in France

Image by Simon Howden at www.freedigitalphotos.net
Image by Simon Howden at http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

Today’s attack on the French magazine Charlie Hebdo in which gunmen murdered 12 people, including eight journalists, four of them cartoonists, has led to outrage all across the world. Reports are now coming in of vigils being held in several cities including London, the hashtag #JeSuisCharlie is trending worldwide, and messages of condemnation continue to pour in from journalists, world leaders and the public.

Among the most poignant memorials have been those crafted by cartoonists, including one cartoon depicting a gunman standing over his murdered victim saying “He drew first.”

There is little to add, except to salute our brave colleagues, led by editor and cartoonist Stephene Charbonnier (Charb) who is quoted as saying “I would rather die standing than live on my knees.”

The courage of the Charlie Hebdo journalists cannot be overstated, and we condemn their murderers and this despicable attack by those who would seek to silent independent and critical voices.

Below is a statement made by the Press Association of Jamaica.

January 7, 2015

 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 The Press Association of Jamaica wishes to extend its deepest sympathies to the people and government of France, on the occasion of today’s shocking attack on the staff of the French magazine Charlie Hebdo.

 The reports at this time indicate that 12 people have been killed including members of the press and two policemen, and several others wounded by gunmen who invaded the offices at the magazine earlier today. We deeply deplore the loss of life and the injuries suffered by all the victims.

 The PAJ regards this as an attack upon democracy and freedom of the press, which must be of concern to all who support these important values anywhere in the world.

 We stand with our colleagues in France as we condemn this violent attack and reiterate the importance of guarding democracy and protecting the press from intimidation.

                                                                    -30-

 Disclosure: I am the President of the PAJ. 

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Is The Age of Innocence the Age of Consent?

Image by Simon Howden at www.freedigitalphotos.com
Image by Simon Howden at www.freedigitalphotos.com

Should the age at which people can legally consent to sexual intercourse be 16? Or should it be raised to 18? I explore this and related issues in two posts on http://www.rjrnewsonline.com on this issue, Part 1 which you can read here and Part 2 which you can read here. Check them out. Let me start you off….

“Children shouldn’t be having sex!”

“You can’t vote at 16, so why should a 16-year-old be allowed to have sex?”

“Our laws need to send the message that we don’t believe that it is ok to have sex at 16!”

This is just a sampling of the types of responses that have been generated in the wake of the review of the Sexual Offences Act, and in particular the status of children under the Act. Remember, anyone under the age of 18 is a child, according to the Child Care and Protection Act.

The problem is that the discussion, as it generally unfolds, ignores the wider context of the various age limits applicable to childhood and the reasons for the disparities. Read more here.

Marital Rape Still an Issue in Jamaica in 2014

Photo by Ambro at www.freedigitalphotos.net
Photo by Ambro at www.freedigitalphotos.net

Hi there, I am blogging at http://www.rjrnewsonline.com on this issue of marital rape – do check it out!

What should we make of the (renewed) protests against the proposal to criminalise rape in all circumstances, including those within a marriage? The protests, or perhaps worse, the snickering, trivialize what is one of the most important issues facing women all across the world, that of domestic violence. Read more here.

 

The Killing of Mario Deane

image by sakhorn38 at www.freedigitalphotos.net
image by sakhorn38 at www.freedigitalphotos.net

I’m blogging today at http://www.rjrnewsonline.com about the killing of Mario Deane and why I have a problem with the government’s reaction to the killing. Check it out!

Following the death of Mario Deane, the government has sprung into action. Deane had been taken into custody in St. James for possession of a ganja spliff (cigarette), and several hours later was dead, beaten to death while in the custody of the state. The police claim that he was beaten by cell-mates and have quickly arrested two of them.  Since Mario Deane died after being arrested for having a ganja spliff, the government apparently reasoned, the most important step to take now to fix the problem that caused Deane’s death is to fast track the decriminalization of the possession of small quantities of ganja.  The approach thus far has all the hallmarks of muddled and muddy thinking. Read more here.

 

 

Another Step Forward – Jamaica Launches Child Justice Guidelines

church, oca 092There are many shameful examples of how we have treated our children. Only a few of these are ever made public. The Jamaica Observer reported on one case of a 14-year-old who ran away from home and ended up locked away in an adult correctional facility for a year.

“The police told my grandmother to leave me at the station. They never told me where I was going. When I reached and saw the big gate, I said me just go way fi two day and me a go prison?” she said.

Talk to lawyers in the system, and they will tell you about the injustices, large and small, that children suffer when they come into contact with the justice system. Children locked up for minor offences, forced to miss school, subject to the less than stellar conditions in our correctional facilities.  Jamaica’s Children’s Advocate Diahann Gordon-Harrison told me in an interview of examples where child defendants and victims attending court have to hear their names bellowed out by the police officer on court duty, in the same way adults are treated. She also spoke of child victims in court being carelessly placed next to family members of the defendants accused of abusing them.

It is an accepted principle of treating with children in all spheres that they deserve special protection because of their vulnerability.  Article 3 on the Convention on the Rights of the child says, for example:

“In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.”

And of course, it is the poor and uneducated who suffer most. After all, parents with more money can afford to hire lawyers to protect the interests of their children. Many of our poorer children appear in court unrepresented.

This is one of the many issues tackled in the new Child Justice Guidelines issued by the church, oca 093Office of the Children’s Advocate, published in association with UNICEF. Guideline 13 states that:

“The Office of the Children’s Advocate or Duty Counsel on the Legal Aid list is to be immediately contacted by the police where a child suspect is arrested and does not have legal representation.”

Drawing heavily on international treaties and instruments such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice (the Beijing Rules), the Guidelines deal with all areas in which a child will interact with the justice system prior to incarceration. The Guidelines also address not just the situation of child suspects and defendants but also how child victims and child witnesses should be treated.

For example, Guideline 27 (4):

“The court should guard against and prevent the intimidation and harassment of witnesses by lawyers through methods such as (a) asking irrelevant questions, (b) confusing the child with repetitive and/or rapid questions, repeated interruption to responses or by demanding unrealistically specific times and details (c) shouting at the child.”

  On the questioning of children, Guideline 27 (2) states:

“Given that the attention span of children can be limited, the court should curtail lengthy questioning sessions.”

Guideline 21 (1):  “Children should be transported in vehicles with adequate ventilation and light, and in conditions that in no way subject them to hardship or indignity.”

In relation to Decisions and Sentencing, Guideline 28 (2) says:

(b) Restrictions on the personal liberty of the juvenile should be imposed only after careful consideration and should be limited to the minimum possible time…

(d) The emphasis of the court when dealing with child offenders, should always be the objective of rehabilitating the child.”

 The Guidelines, issued under the Children’s Advocate’s powers under the Child Care and Protection Act, were launched on Universal Children’s Day, November 20, the day the United Nations  Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, in 1959, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, in 1989. The new Guidelines are not legally binding, true. But neither were the Beijing Rules, and they have created a highly respected framework for the treatment of children who come in conflict with the law. With the necessary groundwork, so too could these Guidelines.

Will Jamaica’s Anti-Gang Bill Kill Songs Like “I Shot the Sheriff?”

Organized Crime
Organized Crime (Photo credit: marvelous_blue)

Will the so-called Anti-Gang Bill before the Jamaican Parliament  restrict freedom of expression of our artistes? A lively discussion has started, and I will be looking at its provisions much more closely at another time.

Here are a few preliminary observations however. Societies have often found it necessary to restrict freedom of expression in the interest of the society as a whole and in the interest of vulnerable groups.

Take as one example our Obscene Publications (Suppression of) Act. This prohibits the making or producing of obscene writings drawings and other materials for trade distribution or public exhibition.

In the United Kingdom, the Public Order Act 1986 prohibits the display of written material which is “threatening, abusive or insulting” if one intends to stir up racial hatred or if racial hatred is likely to result.

The fact that restrictions on the right to freedom of expression may be necessary is recognized in  the

A map of the parties to the International Cove...
A map of the parties to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as compiled from the OHCHR’s ratification list. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in Article 19, which deals with freedom of expression, and states that:

19 (2). Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.

(3). The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:

(a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others;

(b) For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.”

Now let’s take an actual look at some of the provisions in the Bill (as opposed to listening to people who haven’t read it talking about it). its actual name is the Criminal Justice (suppression of Criminal Organisations) Act 2013.

Criminal activity is defined as the “planned ongoing, continuous or repeated  participation or involvement in any serious offence.”

A criminal organization is defined as “any gang, group, alliance, network, combination or other arrangement among three or more persons (whether formally or informally affiliated or organized and whether or not operating through one or more bodies (corporate or other associations) that:

(a)  has as one of its purposes the commission of one or more serious offences and

(b)  in relation to which the persons who are a part thereof or participate therein (individually jointly or collectively)

(i)            have engaged in unlawful activity in order to obtain directly or indirectly a financial or other material benefit or to gain power or influence or

(ii)          issue threats or engage in conduct to create fear or to intimidate or to exert power or influence in communities or over other persons.”

 Our own Charter of Rights contains a provision seen in constitutions of other countries, namely that Parliament may pass no law to infringe the rights set out, including the right of freedom of expression “save only as may be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.”

In other words, any attempt to limit the rights and freedoms guaranteed in the constitution must meet the test of being “demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.” This is a provision that has been tested in court in different jurisdictions (and I’ll try to look at some of the resulting court decisions in another blog post). The relevant provision of the Anti-Gang Bill will therefore have to be examined in that context.

The controversial provision is section 15 (1) which states that      

Image depicting member of MS13 gang. Work of t...
Image depicting member of MS13 gang. Work of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Public Domain. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“A person may not use a common name or identifying sign, symbol, tattoo or other physical marking, colour or style of dress or graffiti or produce record or perform songs to promote or facilitate the criminal activity of a criminal organization.”

While we do need to look more closely at the provisions, and what has happened in other countries, it is clear that songs generally talking about Jamaica’s gun culture, for example, and yes, Bob Marley’s “I shot the Sheriff” will not be caught by the provision. The song would have to be promoting or facilitating the criminal activity of a criminal organization. Do we think it would be unjustified to ban such a song?

Sure, we need to look at the Bill closely, and see if any of the provisions are problematic in their wording or likely effect, but how about we calm down first? Freedom of expression is not absolute. Do you really think it should be? 

What My Jamaican Nanny Left Me – The Other Side of the Story

Nurse and Child - Mary Cassatt
Photo - Wikimedia Commons

The Huffington Post published a poignant story about a Jewish man reminiscing about the legacy of love left to him by his Jamaican nanny, a story that’s heartwarming and touching.  Or is it?

The story is indeed well-written and moving. But suppose we read between the lines? The question the story raises for me is whether this is a classic case of a Jamaican woman who was forced through economic circumstances to leave her children back home to raise other people’s children far away. It’s possible that her children were already grown, but the story says she had SEVEN children back in Jamaica and another child in the United States, for whom she prayed every night.

I’m not judging her, or other Jamaicans who feel the need to migrate to support their families. Many feel they have no choice. But the fact is that this has been recognized as a major contributor to our societal problems like juvenile delinquency, and yes, crime.

Coco bread with a Jamaican beef patty
Coco bread with a Jamaican beef patty (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So when Ross Urken speaks lovingly of the evenings his Jamaican nanny spent reading to him and his sister, ask who is reading to the thousands of kids left motherless back in Jamaica. When he speaks about how she exposed him to Jamaican patties and jerk chicken, ask about the exposure of the children left behind.

Lecturer in Social Work at the University of the West Indies Dr. Claudette Crawford-Brown reported on the phenomenon she termed the “barrel children” syndrome in the 1990s.

UNICEF
UNICEF (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A 2007 UNICEF report cited her seminal work as follows:

“As early as 1993, Dr. Claudette Crawford Brown, from the University of the West Indies (UWI) came to the conclusion that the absence of mothers was a key determinant to the involvement of children with violence.

In a survey she found that 80% of children in conflict with the law had their mothers absent, while this was the case for only 30% of other children, and migration was the second most important reason explaining the absence of mothers.”

Those left behind are particularly vulnerable to abuse, which should be of interest, given the recent focus on the sexual abuse of children.

A 2009 UNICEF study on the impact of migration in the Caribbean stated that:

“The impact of parents’ migration on children can be devastating as it threatens the long-term well-being and development of Caribbean adolescents into adulthood…

“Many children left behind suffer from depressions, low self-esteem which can lead to behavioural problems, and (are) at increased risk of poor academic performance as well as interruption of schooling.”

The potential for abuse is especially great when the mother migrates. The study states that:

“According to the evaluation of the Health and Family Life Education programme, 18% of the respondent children (average age of 14.7 yr) experienced forced sex. The vulnerability to abuse significantly increases when a child loses the protection of a parent(s)…

When the mother migrates, abuse whether it is physical, emotional, sexual or neglect is more likely to occur.”

Interesting, although the reason given for migration is to help the family, often the migration of the father impacted the family left behind by reducing the available financial resources with “little remittances coming back …”

Boeing 737
Photo - Wikimedia Commons

The children left behind have been found to suffer a range of psycho-social issues.

“The most common psycho-social problems are feelings of abandonment, sadness, despondence, despair, anger, lack of trust, low self-esteem, and inability to concentrate at school. The abandonment of a parent(s) sometimes has permanent effects on the child’s life, and many spend their entire lives struggling with feelings of rejection and loss.  The many broken promises of reunion with their parents further tend to result in emotional instability.”

The paper concludes that:

“These implications of parents’ migration on children threaten the long-term well-being and development of Caribbean adolescents into  productive adults.”

Many of those issues remain.

Dr. Audrey Pottinger was quoted in the Jamaica Observer in 2008 as saying that she had conducted a small study in which children whose parents had migrated to North America or the United Kingdom, reported feelings of loneliness, anger, anxiety, fear of rejection, abandonment and sadness.

Speaking at a Medical Association of Jamaica (MAJ) Symposium, she said:

“I compared children who had parents divorced, died or migrated. We found that migratory loss seems to affect more areas of the child’s life compared to divorce and death.”

She found that migration caused mental consequences even though parents stayed in contact with their children and sent money and gifts.

Seventy-seven per cent of the children said they were concerned about who would take care of them once their parents left and 71 per cent had increased somatic illnesses (triggered by depression) after the migration. Forty-five per cent said they did not understand why their parents had migrated, even after family discussions,  and 20 per cent said they were never informed prior to the migration – they just came home one day and were given the news that their parent left.

She noted that there were statistically significant differences in the occurrences of depression in children whose parents migrated compared to those whose parents had not.

“Depression was found significant in both the Trinidad and the Jamaican group,” she said. “In addition, in Jamaica the children were more at risk for suicidal ligation and poor school performance.”

So forgive me if I’m not clicking my heels with joy at the legacy this Jamaican nanny left her American charge. It leaves me wondering about the impact on her Jamaican children. And even if this nanny’s children were all grown and well-functioning adults when she left, it reminds me of the thousands of other children suffering from absent parents. No, this story doesn’t warm my heart. It saddens me.

Note

Links to the UNICEF reports are provided, but for completeness, the citations are:

1. The Impact of International Migration: Children Left Behind in Selected Countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. Anna Lucia D’Emilio et al. Division of Policy and Planning, UNICEF. 2007.

2. The Impact of Migration on Children in the Caribbean. Caroline Bakker, Martina Elings-Pels and Michele Reis. UNICEF Office for Barbados and Easte

Would we care if Trayvon Martin had died in Jamaica?

Trayvon Martin Protest - Sanford
Trayvon Martin Protest – Sanford (Photo credit: werthmedia)

Jamaica has jumped enthusiastically onto the Trayvon Martin bandwagon. Don’t get me wrong, I’m following the story closely as well, and have had several discussions on radio about it. But some Jamaicans have been asking why we are so focused on Trayvon’s story, but you rarely see that level of interest in the many cases of killings in Jamaica – many of which also involve children. Here are a few ideas.

1. It’s much easier to do veranda commentary than it is to jump up from your computer and get involved. Protesting is a hot, sweaty activity that usually involves missing work and risking your face being on national TV or in the newspapers, associated with, gasp, a cause!

 

Witness the poorly supported civil society protest outside the Ministry of National Security to call for better policing. This was shortly after the killings of Immaculate High School student Vanessa Kirkland, which I wrote about here and 13-year old Niketa Cameron, both allegedly by police.Vanessa’s death, in particular, provoked outrage. Should that outrage have translated into support for that protest? Why would Jamaicans who were expressing longing to join a march for Trayvon, not have supported a local protest?

Most local protests, however, are organized by groups like Jamaicans for Justice, which are viewed, at best, with scepticism by many Jamaicans, and at worst, with downright hostility, as I said here. In fact, JFJ has recently written to the papers, trying to change the perception of the group. Is that attitude to the human rights groups a factor? I believe it probably is.

2. The US media cover such stories in a way that the Jamaican newsrooms don’t (can’t?) Blow by blow coverage, digging into everybody’s backgrounds, camping out outside offices and homes, and hours of hours and HOURS of airtime devoted to the story. They bring victims to life. Trayvon sounds like the kid next door, and you are drawn into the story in a way that doesn’t seem to happen often here. Here’s an example. Quick –  what do you know about Niketa Cameron? Probably nothing. I bet her name didn’t even ring a bell.

3. The racial element to this story has proved irresistible. Many, or most of us, have family in the US.

Trayvon Martin Protest - Sanford
Trayvon Martin Protest – Sanford (Photo credit: werthmedia)

Our fathers, brothers, husbands, uncles, cousins and friends are black men living in the States. They could have been Trayvon Martin. That’s certainly what it feels like.

Having said all this, a colleague said to me that she does not believe the cases are comparable. INDECOM, the Independent Commission of Investigations,  investigates police killings in Jamaica and immediately started to probe the killings of Vanessa and Niketa. In other words, the responsible government agency sprang into action, and made this known publicly. On the other hand, she says, in Florida, the authorities failed to act.

She points to the outrage over the case of the Kingston College student allegedly killed by the X-6 driver, and the way the authorities here in Jamaica were forced to react to that public outrage. She argues that if a teenager walking in Cherry Gardens had been killed by a resident on neighbourhood watch patrol, there would have been similar outrage here.

What do you think? Is she right?

Requiem for a Jamaican teenager

I don’t know Vanessa Kirkland. I don’t know her family. And I certainly don’t know exactly happened on Tuesday night. What I do know is that a 16-year-old girl is dead, a high school student who was preparing to sit exams, and whose future stretched out ahead of her, full of potential and possibility.

There’s an empty space in her house this morning, her bed not slept in, her school uniforms not worn, her notes for exams never to be used. Reports are that Vanessa had recently taken graduation photographs. When they arrive, there’ll be no girlish giggling over them. Instead, there’s a good chance those photographs will only be greeted with tears.

Her mother has lost a daughter, and her siblings, a sister, in a manner that must be hard to accept.  The future her mother dreamed of for her no longer exists. We grieve with her, and we know it could be us. Today fi you, tomorrow fi me.

And although we don’t know precisely what happened, the circumstances under which Vanessa died and the disjointed “PRELIMINARY REPORT” are sufficiently cloudy and questionable to raise inevitable feelings of mistrust and anger. This is where Independent Commissioner of Investigations (INDECOM) Commissioner Terrence Williams’ complaint about the inability to get ballistics tests done speedily must raise renewed concern.

Because the least we can do now for Vanessa is to insist on a speedy and effective investigation. Let her mother, and the country, know exactly what happened. She deserves that much.

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