Basseterre, St. Kitts, (SKNIS):Hazel Thompson-Ahye, Legal Consultant of the Organisation of the Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Juvenile Justice Reform Project has emphasized the importance of looking out for the best interests of children at the two-day capacity building workshop for Juvenile Justice Workers held in St. Kitts recently.
Mrs. Thompson-Ahye explained that according to the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) the issue of non-discrimination is critical to Juvenile Justice Reform.
“We are showing not only what articles of the Convention are directly related to Juvenile Justice but also what are the general principles of the Convention.” Mrs. Thompson Ahye revealed. “So we look at the question of non-discrimination, which is an umbrella principle pervading everything we do with children. We look at the best interest of the child. We look at the child’s right to life, survival and development, and we look at the child’s right to be heard.
“And you will recognize that some of these are real challenges for some of us in the Caribbean, not only in St. Kitts, because we are not accustomed to giving children the right to be heard.”
Mrs. Thompson-Ahye further explained that due to her work in other institutions she was able to share expertise on diversion which is the process of finding means of rehabilitating offenders of the law without necessarily detaining them. She said that if detention was necessary, it must be for a minimum period and it must be a last resort. Mrs. Ahye emphasized that diversion would include certain processes that allow healing for both the victim and the offender.
“So we’re looking at a number of diversionary processes and in fact the Juvenile Justice Bill that has now become law in St. Kitts and Nevis talks about family group conferences and restorative justice,” Mrs. Thompson-Ahye outlined. “I am also a trainer with the International Institute of Restorative Practices, so I have shown them [course participants] videos about running a conference, how to bring together the victim and offender and their family support. When an offence is committed, it’s not just an offence against the state, it’s an offence against somebody.”
Pertaining to the OECS Juvenile Justice Reform Project legal work, Lyndel Archibald, Coordinator of Juvenile Justice Reform Project revealed that a legislative review had to take place to harmonize the laws across the OECS territories.
“We’re all signatories to the CRCs and other International Conventions pertaining to juveniles, but on our books it did not reflect that we had signed on to those conventions because we were not implementing what they demanded,” Ms. Archibald stressed. “So we did have a consultant go through all the islands, reviewing all such laws.
“So right now every member state has a directory of laws pertaining to juveniles and children. And that is one of the reasons why St. Kitts was able to pass the Child Justice Bill. There are three other countries that have not passed theirs as yet and before this project ends we intend to work with them to ensure that they pass those laws in support of our children.”