Vice President and Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan says that the new Juvenile Justice Bill would be seeking to implement a myriad of changes for juvenile justice while decriminalizing wandering.
Ramjattan made the statement while delivering the feature address at the first of three consultations on the draft Bill that is expected to be taken before the house in the near future.
He pointed out that a very important principle which this Draft Bill deals with is the age of criminal responsibility. There is a question of whether it should be increased from its present ten years old to twelve years old or should it go up even further to sixteen (16) years.
This would be decided upon the completion of the consultation with the public for the legislation.
Also up for debate was whether issues such as wandering, running away and skipping school should be considered criminal offences.
The Minister made it clear where he stood on such issues noting that these are acts which often are the result of psychological or socio-economic problems.
“It is particularly a matter of concern that girls and street children are often victims of this kind of communication. These acts are not considered criminal when committed by adults. There is an inherent injustice there, and discrimination on grounds of age,” said Ramjattan.
He pointed out that there are a number of children who were sentenced to the New Opportunity Corps (NOC) for the offence of wandering – that amount being 13 as at August 2015.
“These offences must be abolished. We must enhance humaneness and equity by reducing the use of secure confinement. We must not betray young people by continuing the imposition of custodial sentences. This must only be an exercise of last resort, where nothing else is left to protect the public,” the Vice President stated.
It was stated that the Government is aware that this revolution in juvenile justice, which this Draft Bill will introduce, is going to require a number of changes and a huge amount of resources.
“The changes must include mindset changes of the professionals presently engaged; and, what I call ‘organizational dynamics’ which exist in institutions dealing with youth justice. Support will be given to have these changes made as quickly as possible.