Monday, November 26, 2012

Vanessa's death must be a turning point

About 40 children still in adult prisons now.
by Jean Lowrie-Chin
Jamaica Observer column | Monday, November 26, 2012

SIXTEEN-year-old Vanessa Wint was in high spirits a few weeks ago when her family visited her at the Horizon Park Remand Centre. By last Wednesday night, however, Vanessa was dead and there is speculation around the circumstances of her tragic demise. On various newscasts we have been hearing from an uncle, Javette Nixon, that there seemed to have been an altercation which had been pacified. However, it is alleged that the distressed Vanessa obtained a sheet and hanged herself.
Friday's Jamaica Observer reported that Vanessa had run away from home to escape a child molester who had threatened to kill her parents if she refused his advances. What a dark and dismal world this child had found herself in! What an uncaring and unresponsive system of government!
Vanessa's death must be the turning point for this country. No well-thinking Jamaican must rest until every single child is removed from lock-ups. Moreover, we had better get busy reaching out to children at risk and making sure that each of us is responsible for helping one - even one child!
Those of us who have worked hard to reach to a certain level of comfort in life deserve to enjoy the fruits of our labour. But we have duped ourselves into thinking that enjoyment is driving around in locked cars, living behind burglar bars and watching our very shadows. Let us be very aware that the quality of life of each Jamaican affects every Jamaican.
Meanwhile, administrations of both political parties have not displayed the energy and commitment required to protect children in lock-ups. In 1999, Human Rights Watch published a book titled, Nobody's Children: Jamaican Children in Police Detention and Government Institutions, by Rosa Ehrenreich. She quotes from the UN Convention on the Rights of Children which states clearly that "juveniles must be detained separately from adults". How do these members of parliament, these lawmakers of our land, feel when they sit importantly on platforms with UN representatives, even as they disregard the basic rights being required by that organisation? Are they not ashamed? We are of one voice with Jamaicans for Justice in their outrage at this festering situation bandaged over by specious words.
We hear that some of the children in lock-ups are there for rape and murder, recruits of the many gangs running riot over the country. Yet Anti-Gang Legislation remains on the back burner while blood-curdling stories circulate on how these gangs are utilised by cynical politicians. Does it matter to them that these gangs target less fortunate juveniles for recruitment?
We will hear myriad excuses about uncooperative public servants, about foot-dragging, about limited funding. I will not get into the argument about government vehicles as that is a drop in the bucket compared to the waste that takes place because we have these huge government bodies occupying expensive space without proper accounting for their justification for using up billions - not millions - of taxpayers' dollars. The media should get information on those swollen budgets and ask how a tiny country like Jamaica can afford those salaries and perks when we cannot find the wherewithal to protect our children at risk.
If our leaders feel they can fool most of the people all of the time, they are mistaken. Last night Twitter and Facebook lit up with expressions of scorn and disgust at our leaders. Here are some quotes:
* "Just upset me man... Yuh know how ppl a struggle fe mek ends meet already while dem a profile? kmt..#Madness."
* "What's worse is that they owe $124m in rent to the UDC and still have no IMF deal!"
* "Yup, these things happen and we're all to pretend its 'cool'. Blatant disregard for us as Jamaicans, and it will never change."
You see, dear leaders, Sarah Palin was somewhat of a prophet when she termed the mainstream media, the "lamestream media" Fast on the heels of our traditional newspapers and broadcast media is the galloping social media and in the past few days we have seen the anger of ordinary, good-natured folk, rising in steady contrast to our deflating dollar.
Vanessa Wint is a poignant metaphor for this beautiful, wounded Jamaica, land we love. We teach our children to put their hands on their hearts and recite the national pledge:
"Before God and all mankind, I pledge the love and loyalty of my heart ...,/ in the service of my fellow citizens;/I promise to stand up for Justice, Brotherhood and Peace ...,/ so that Jamaica may, under God, increase in beauty, fellowship and prosperity..."
This is the pledge mouthed by those who have campaigned to lead us. Today we ask them to meditate on these words and lead us to national healing.

UPDATE - 27 NOV 2012
After reading this column, Monsignor Gregory Ramkissoon, head of Mustard Seed called me yesterday evening to say he would take all the children now in the lock-ups.  He had promise of support from Dr Wendel Abel at UWI for free counseling and Jamaicans for Justice for free legal.  He also has the full support of Roman Catholic Archbishop Charles Dufour. Msgr Greg said he would ask the Gov't to give him the old Jamintel building which he would organise to house and supervise the children.  I was able to reach Senator Sandrea Falconer last night who linked Minister of Security Peter Bunting with Msgr Greg.  Things are moving and we pray that our children will be removed from those lockups very soon!  Thanks be to God!!

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