On May 22, 2009 in St. Ann, Jamaica, seven girls died in a fire at the Armadale facility, which was a state-run juvenile center that housed girls exposed to crime and violence. Those that made it out of Armadale alive suffered severe injuries as a result of the blaze.
While the fire has long been put out in St. Ann, the apathy surrounding the protection and promotion of children’s rights in Jamaica is not yet extinguished. In fact, it has been burning for decades. The underlying problems continue: weak governing policies, lack of accountability for responsible adults, inherent flaws in the child protection system, and lack of training and capacity building for those in charge of children in juvenile facilities.
The Armadale tragedy is testament to the pervasiveness of these problems, which impede important steps in appreciating and fulfilling human rights as we seek to build a more advanced country in Jamaica. The roadmap for Vision 2030, the National Development Plan, seems clear and exhaustive. But the rights of our children are not adequately taken into account; if they are not addressed, Vision 2030 will be a useless blueprint and will fail to take Jamaica forward.
Jamaica ratified the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1991 and has legislated the obligations of this international treaty into the Child Care and Protection Act (CCPA) of 2004. But arguably, there have been few changes on this front since the CCPA. Teachers still practice capital punishment, parents continue to neglect their child rearing responsibilities, older men and women continue to use power and influence to engage in human trafficking, and even religious leaders sexually exploit our children while pretending to offer guidance and emotional support. Additionally, those who must take action and make a difference ignore the immediate and long-term implications until these situations escalate and draw the attention of the media.
Thankfully, the respect and promotion of human rights is still important to a number of Jamaicans. The support from our international partners in advocating issues of rights must be recognized. Using the case of Armadale, many Jamaicans and human rights activists have criticized the federal government for the continued impunity of public officials and contravening international conventions and local laws.
The complaints of mistreatment and denial of the rights of children in the care of the state have accumulated year after year. A number of these cases have been treated with little urgency by the authorities and institutions charged with the appropriate responsibilities.
In 2007, the NGO Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) referred to the gaps in the children’s home regulations in facilitating the mandates of the CCPA as “woefully inadequate.” I argue that perhaps one of these anguishes is the tragic loss of the seven girls at Armadale, all of whom were detained by the justice system. Those girls who survived the Armadale tragedy have scars and emotional trauma that tell of a vicious experience. But unfortunately, many Jamaicans still find the JFJ report unfathomable.
The Armadale tragedy should have ushered in a renewed effort to promote children’s rights advocacy in our country. This incident reminds us that we cannot rest until the 60 Members of Parliament we elected and scores of civil servants with responsibility for child protection and welfare understand and commit themselves to the urgency of human and children’s rights. If this does not happen, I am saddened to say that continued, insufficient attention toward children’s rights in Jamaica will result in many more Armadales.
This is a three-part article. Look out for the next blog post coming soon.
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