Women and Gender Equality Commission calls for a more humane Juvenile Offences law
The Women and Gender Equality Commission is lobbying for the removal of wandering as an offence punishable by detention at the New Opportunity Corps, since many of the Juveniles found wandering are already in unavoidably difficult situations.
Speaking on the issue, Commissioner Nicole Cole pointed out that some 70 percent of the juveniles housed at the New Opportunity Corps (NOC) in region two are there for wandering.
Public Security Minister, Khemraj Ramjattan is expected to table the new Juvenile Offences Bill, which will be removing wandering as an offence, in the National Assembly shortly.
Miss Cole stressed the need for legal counsel and a psychiatric evaluation of juveniles before they are placed into these holding facilities.
“Wandering as a charge has done much damage to those who would be deemed children in difficult circumstances and children in difficult circumstances need psycho-social support, economic support, welfare support, social services support, not charge and punishment,” she noted.
In the new Juvenile Offences Bill a provision would be included which stipulates that every child must undergo a psychological evaluation prior to institutionalization.
She is advocating that a resident social worker at the NOC and the Sophia Juvenile Centre.
The Women and Gender Equality Commission has sought the intervention of the Director of Public Prosecutions in this matter as Commissioner Sandra Hooper explained.
She disclosed that “the Rights of the Child Commission has been having workshops with children held at the centre as well as the New Opportunity Corps and the experience that those children have had with the police as well as the New Opportunity Corps would leave much to be desired. They are being robbed of much experience at this time of their lives.”
Commissioner Hooper is advocating for a community-based approach to addressing the issue of wandering. She is contending that those who are detained at the NOC sometimes mix with the wrong company and end up in a worst state with some joining gangs.
The Commission is also collaborating with the Legal Aid to provide legal assistance where necessary and explain to the juveniles what they would be going through.