Remember children’s rights

I read with interest an article in your newspaper in December in which you reported on the new proposed amendments to the Children’s Law and stated that the Minister responsible for the introduction had invited comment.

I have to depend on your publication for the content of the amending bill since I have not seen it, but the article does give the inference that the Children’s Law is an active piece of legislation available to the court, when in truth and fact, it is not, nor has it ever been.

Until it is, the inclusion of new amendments, even those which will make it compliant with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, is, in my opinion, an exercise in legislative futility.

This piece of legislation has a long and tortured history.

In the early 1990’s, England passed the Children’s Act, legislation intended to streamline its court’s ability to deal with the kaleidoscope of problems faced by the young child in modern society and to comply with the Convention on the Rights of the Child to which the British government – and, in turn, the Cayman Islands, are signatories.

The complex legislation demanded intensive training of all parties involved – social workers, lay magistrates or justices of the peace, court officers, police officers, child advocates, etc., and many amendments were made as weaknesses were discovered by its implementation.

The Cayman Islands followed suit and, in 1994, a Bill for the Children’s Law was drafted, taken to Parliament, passed and signed into the law by the then Governor, but not enacted, or put into force, awaiting the draft of the necessary regulations.

And there the matter ended. In 2002, while serving as a consultant to the minister responsible for Family Services, Dr. Frank McField, I drew the matter to his attention, pointing out the dire need for such legislation by the courts.

However, in its original form, the law was totally unworkable, placing, as it did, the onus for its implementation on the grand court instead of the summary courts where justices of the peace could be used to implement it.

Thus, in view of the many amendments needed to make the legislation workable, the decision was taken to draft a new law, which again was taken to Parliament, passed, signed by the governor, and put on a shelf to await the drafting of regulations, which are necessary for its implementation.

Fourteen long years have gone by since we started on this journey; years in which the programmes and facilities demanded by the law are still to come; years in which a whole generation has grown up and moved on; years in which we have breached the convention again and again; years in which successive governments have come and gone – and still we wait!

Even now, if we manage to complete all the necessary legal steps for its implementation, there is still the vigorous training programme which all stakeholders must undergo, for this, too, awaits the regulations.

The whole drawn-out exercise has just served to convince me, more than ever, that the rights of children should be enshrined, not in legislation, but in the proposed bill of rights for the new constitution. I do not believe these should be left to the whims and fancies of any political directorate.

Until this is done, successive governments, and in turn, society, will continue to ignore the rights of this most vulnerable, and yet most valuable, sector of our society – the young child.

The committee sits this week to decide the new constitution. It will include representatives of both political parties who will expound their particular doctrine. There are representatives of the churches – both Sunday and Saturday keepers who will offer their religious viewpoints. There’s the Chamber of Commerce who will represent Big Business, and the fledgling Human Rights Committee which, until now, had no power to act on behalf of anyone.

Each of these have specific agendas they will carry forward.

Let’s hope, in their august deliberations, they remember to include the rights of the most vulnerable in our society – the children; the elderly; the women!

Let’s hope they get it right this time.

Mary J. Lawrence, JP