Activists want proposed juvenile law to be further ‘fine-tuned’

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Childs rights activists Nicole Cole and Andre Gonsalves believe the proposed changes to the juvenile justice system are revolutionary but urge that there be more fine-tuning to the draft legislation so there is no ambiguity when it comes to dealing with children who are at odds with the law.

The Juvenile Justice Bill was read for the first time in the National Assembly by Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan on Thursday last.

The Bill proposes a myriad of changes to the juvenile justice system, including stipulations that a child below the age of 12 will not be capable of being guilty of committing a crime.

Cole, a Commissioner on the Rights of the Child Commission, dubbed the Bill as revolutionary especially since it addresses the issue of wandering.

“The reason why the Bill is revolutionary is because it will finally eschew the charge of wandering,” she told reporters during an interview on the sidelines of an event at the Herdmanston Lodge today.

Cole said approximately 70% of the children at the juvenile holding centre in Essequibo, the New Opportunity Corp (NOC), are there for wandering.

Cole added that “I have been advocating for the passage of this Bill for over seven years, the reason being is that we can no longer move forward in the 21st century by locking up children who are in difficult circumstances.”

She noted too that the Bill makes provisions for every child who comes into contact with the law to undergo a psychiatric evaluation.

In this regard, she underscored the need for resources to be allotted to support the new legislation.

Meanwhile, Gonsalves, a Research and Investigative Officer at the Commission, said the Bill needs to address more clearly, the issues of children being on remand for more than five years and the issue of children appearing in court unrepresented.

“We either need a public defenders office or expand the subvention to the Guyana Legal Aid Council,” he said.

The Guyana Legal Aid Council provides free or subsidised legal advice and representation to people who cannot afford to pay for an attorney, particularly vulnerable groups like children.

Gonsalves noted that the Bill alludes to these two issues but he called for the clauses to be clearer so there would be no ambiguity.

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