Jamaica’s Youth parliamentarians say homes no longer havens for children; call for stiffer assault, domestic violence fines

YOUTH parliamentarians on Monday charged that family homes have transformed into lions’ dens instead of havens and simultaneously called for heavier fines to be applied to domestic violence and assault cases that appear before the courts.

Deshawn Cooke, youth parliamentarian for Trelawny Northern who represented Prime Minister Andrew Holness’s Administration, said amid the novel coronavirus pandemic there were increased reports of domestic violence and child abuse from within homes, instead of reports of greater nurturing and harmonious living.

Speaking at Gordon House, Cooke made his presentation during the 12th sitting of the National Youth Parliament against the backdrop of intensified reports of domestic violence and child abuse due to the effects of the mandatory work-from-home order for public sector workers, which was put to an end on December 31, 2021.

“As the nation grapples with the spread of [the novel coronavirus], the home that should have been the haven is now left to be the lion’s den, so that means no weh no safe again,” Cooke said.

Citing statistics from the National Children’s Registry (NCR), Cooke said more then 1,000 allegations of sexual abuse were reported for investigation between January and June 2020.

“Some may say that it is not a big deal, some may say numbers are padded. However, the reality exists that the resources that many at-risk partners rely on, such as the extended family, childcare, schools, religious groups and other organisations, are no longer available in many areas. As such, I am putting forward these plans to the honourable House which will better sensitise our people to the harms of domestic violence and the need to treat it as a serious issue,” said Cooke.

He argued that in some instances, police downplay the importance and severity of reports of domestic violence and child abuse and neighbours turn a deaf ear and a blind eye to the problem.

Consequently, Cooke called for intensification of public efforts against domestic violence, through schools, workplaces and active community groups.

“We are protecting the ‘Dollies’ and of course the ‘Ken Dolls’, as domestic violence has no gender. To complement and strengthen the sensitisation campaign we must also ensure that we adequately punish those guilty of the crime. The remedy is to change the six months’ imprisonment or $10,000 fine for the violation of a protection order. In fact, a protection order is only valid for one year,” said Cooke.

He said in the Republic of Barbados, on the contrary, the same penalties would approximate to $400,000 and one year imprisonment or both, and questioned whether Jamaica’s penalties were enough to ward off perpetrators.

“What is the message we are sending with such a menial fine? Our children are the future and if they are being robbed of the opportunity to develop, what does that mean for Jamaica’s long-term development? What is the Government going to do to address this?” Cooke asked.

Meanwhile, Opposition youth parliamentarian for Westmoreland Western, Anthony Beckford said the constant image of death, feeling of isolation, and everlasting paranoia of fear remain the realities of one in three women worldwide and one in four women who were forced to work from home while continuing to grapple with domestic violence amidst the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Focusing on the women and children who have been victims of violent crimes, Opposition youth parliamentarian for St Catherine South Eastern Karyl Thorpe listed the names of Winshae Barrett, Phylisa Prussia, Gabriel King, Toni-Ann Reid, Jasmine Dean, Khanice Jackson and Joyclyne Gordon. She said their deaths and disappearances over the past 22 months have underlined the fact that assault has no regard for age.

Thorpe also questioned why the charge for assault on children and women is still $2,000 and described the amount as “chump change” based on the state of our economy.

“How can that meagre quantity of money demonstrate any sorrow for the heinous action? I strongly advise boosting this minute sum by at least 10,000 per cent, bringing it to $200,000. This shift would considerably have more ramification than the current sliver of money,” said Thorpe to much desk pounding.

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