BU shares the Caswell Franklyn Nation newspaper column – he is the General Secretary of Unity Workers Union and BU Contributor.
NOT ALL BLACK AND WHITE: Failing vulnerable children
After reading the remarks attributed to Prime Minister, Freundel Stuart,
on the front page of the Daily Nation on September 14, I have finally come to a conclusion about statements issued by politicians at branch meetings. They should come with a warning that says these remarks are intended only to rally the party faithful and should not be relied upon.
Over the years, I have read many reports of speeches made at these meetings and have found that they usually lack specifics, and in most cases, they are poorly researched and or inaccurate. Unfortunately, the news media hang on to every word of politicians and faithfully and uncritically report what is said.
During an address to a recent DLP St James South branch meeting, The PM touched on the recent spate of child abuse cases that has been gripping the country. The reporter, Heather-Lynn Evanson, quoted him as saying: “We don’t make policy on the spot but if a Government can create a means by which abused women can access the services of a magistrate in three days, how much greater is the responsibility of any enlightened Government to ensure that abused children should be able to access some kind of intervention in as a short a time as possible”.
He then went on to mislead his audience and himself by suggesting that the Domestic Violence (Protection Orders) Act was there only to protect women, by going on to say that it would be a cruel irony if after passing that act, “we thought, or could be accused of thinking, that the abuse of women was more serious and more important than the abuse of children“.
The PM is quite rightly disgusted by the reported upsurge in child abuse cases. However, I am afraid, from his words, that his administration might hastily move to pass unnecessary legislation to deal with the situation, rather than apply the existing laws which are more than adequate for the purpose.
In my view, new legislation is the wrong approach; it is simply a problem caused by lack of enforcement or probably misinterpretation of existing statutes, namely: the Domestic Violence (Protection Orders) Act and the Prevention of Cruelty to Children Act. The act dealing with protection orders where an abused woman can access the services of a magistrate in three days also applies to every member of a household that is capable of being abused or harassed, except the dog.
Sections 3 and 4 of the Domestic Violence (Protection Orders) Act are relevant but constraints of space would only allow me to quote Section 4.(1). It states:
An application for a protection order in accordance with Form 1 in the Schedule may be made by way of complaint by
(a) the spouse or former spouse of the person against whom the order is sought where the offence was committed or the harassment conducted against that spouse or a child of the household;
(b) any member of the household, not being a spouse or child;
(c) the Commissioner of Police;
(d) with the leave of the court, a person other than a person mentioned in paragraph (a), as agent for a person to whom that paragraph applies; or (e) a child care officer or a welfare officer on behalf of a child against whom the offence was committed or the harassment conducted.
Also, the 1904 Prevention of Cruelty to Children Act allows the Police to take a child, who has been abused or believed to have been abused, to a place of safety. If I am to believe the stories of abuse of children that have been published in the media, I must conclude that such abuse could only have occurred as a result of failure of personnel of the Child Care Board to minimally do their duty. People might not expect a trade unionist to make such remarks but I believe that the welfare of our vulnerable children trumps protecting workers whose failure to perform their duty result in such catastrophic consequences.
Two children are dead and only God knows how many more scarred, psychologically and otherwise, for life thanks to a child care board in name only.
Caswell Franklyn is the general secretary of Unity Workers Union and a social commentator. Email firstname.lastname@example.org