Jamaica govt, rights group feud over child welfare

KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) — A Jamaican rights group led a rally Thursday as part of its campaign demanding reforms in the treatment of children in state care, a day after the government painted aspects of the advocacy work as “dangerous” and designed to harm the island’s reputation.

Jamaicans for Justice is waging a petition and online video campaign calling for an end to what it calls the government’s “abuse” of children. The group has made complaints about state-run children’s homes and juvenile correctional facilities and contends successive administrations have not done enough to improving the wellbeing of children in state care.

One of the main criticisms is against Jamaica’s longstanding practice of housing juvenile girls remanded by the courts in a prison for adult women. The government says it is will soon be able to accommodate girls in a facility built exclusively for them.

The Cabinet minister in charge of youth and culture levelled her own criticism against the group Wednesday, questioning its motivations and saying it is purposefully ignoring positive steps taken by the governing People’s National Party.

“The tactic by JFJ (Jamaicans for Justice) is disingenuous, dishonest, dangerous and clearly designed to damage the reputation of the country,” Lisa Hanna said in a statement.

Over the years, Jamaicans for Justice has been accused by some police officials, church leaders and politicians as being sympathetic to criminals, but the group is widely respected among many on the island. In 2008, co-founder Carolyn Gomes received the United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights for her work against extrajudicial slayings.

The group’s director, Susan Goffe, said Thursday that it has been very focused for the past year on issues affecting children, who make up about 38 percent of Jamaica’s population.

“No politician, and no state, likes the shining of light on their actions or failings,” Goffe said.

The Jamaica Civil Society Coalition said it was deeply concerned by Hanna’s reaction to a “legitimate civil society critique.”

“The facts are that despite the promises of successive administrations and the convening of several task forces and committees to study the problem and make recommendations, the practice of children being in adult prisons and lockups remains unchanged,” that group said.

The government has said the new detention facility to accommodate remanded girls will be ready by September. It also promises that by the end of next year, children detained by police will spend no more than 48 hours at police stations.

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David McFadden on Twitter: http://twitter/com/dmcfadd

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