The cries of ‘uncontrollable’ children and their mothers
The Sunday Gleaner has obtained testimony from two of more than 30 children who are now being held in correctional facilities after being deemed uncontrollable by a Family Court judge.
Human rights advocacy group Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) has again raised concerns that the practice of locking children away in correctional facilities or remand centres for displaying behavioural problems, and despite them not committing a crime, is a breach of their human rights.
The female children and their mothers claim they were bamboozled into being sent to a penal facility for children after being told by court staff that they would be going to a ‘better place’.
The children’s identities will be protected by The Sunday Gleaner.
One of the girls has been committed to serve a two-year probation sentence after being deemed uncontrollable, but, according to the child’s mother, her only crime was staying out late and being the victim of neighbourhood rumours that she was sexually active.
There have been no reports of any efforts on the part of the court to investigate if the child was in fact sexually active and if her potential partner was an adult male.
The current incarceration of the teenage girl has left her mother traumatised.
“My daughter isn’t a bad child, she’s generally well-behaved. She’s not rude or disrespectful to me. She’s not violent. She does chores when I ask her to, maybe in her own time, but she does them. The problem is that she keeps staying out late and I keep hearing from people in the community that she’s having sex. I didn’t know there were other options for her, I thought this was the only way to help her. I wish someone had explained to me that they didn’t have to send her to that facility,” the mother said.
The plight of the child was unearthed after a JFJ attorney attended court for another legal matter. The attorney became concerned after observing the child in distress and behaving hysterically after receiving her sentence.
SUICIDE COMMENTS DISMISSED
The attorney reported that the child was screaming and crying, while being forcibly removed from the courtroom, and said she was going to commit suicide. The attorney said the child’s comments were dismissed by the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA) officer present as a regular threat.
The child was moved to a holding cell and, while there, the attorney went to speak to her and found that she had tied one of her shoelaces tightly around her neck, and the other tightly around her wrists, with the aim of cutting off her circulation. The attorney raised an alarm and a court officer came to assist her in removing the laces from the child. The child has continued to indicate that she does not believe she belongs in lock-up, since she has done nothing violent, nor committed any crimes. She believes she was never allowed to speak at her hearing, and instead the CPFSA officer and judge had decided what would happen to her without her testimony.
Another mother whose child has been ordered locked up also spoke out.
“Going to court, I only had one thing on my mind. I only wanted her father to take her and I wanted the court to help make that happen. But at the time, he wasn’t able to. In court, they promised me she would be in a better place and not on the street. The judge said where he was sending her was better for her. When my daughter said she was scared that when she went into custody other girls would try to rape her, the judge asked if she preferred to be with the guys on the street than with the girls in the facility,” the woman said.
“The court process was so fast. My daughter barely got to speak. No one asked her any questions. The judge only said that she had gotten enough chances and that this is it. Then he made the decision to send her away. I didn’t know that where they were sending her was a prison. I thought it was a home. I thought it would be a better place for her, like they said. No one explained to me that it was a prison for children who had committed crimes and that it was run by the same people who run GP (General Penitentiary, now named Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre) the other prisons for adults. When I went to visit, I thought I would get to see where she sleeps and how inside the facility looks, but they wouldn’t let me. They brought her out to me, and I could only stay at the front,” she added.
The woman’s teenage daughter’s only crime was staying out late. That designation has resulted in her being also committed to a correctional facility on the basis of being ‘beyond parental control’.
It is also believed that this child is sexually active. Her mother noted that she has never committed a crime, and is not a violent child. The basis upon which she was brought before the court and ultimately detained was that her parents were concerned about how late she was staying out because their community can be violent and her mother was concerned for her safety.
Her mother repeatedly indicated that she did not want her child to get hurt, or to get pregnant, or contract a sexually transmitted infection, all of which she believed would flow from her daughter staying out late. A running theme in both testimonies is that neither of the girls was allowed to address the court or to meaningfully participate in the court process, nor were they provided with legal representation through an attorney who would act in their best interest.