Proposals for raising the age of criminal responsibility from 10-years-old and establishing separate remand homes for boys and girls have come to the fore as Guyana considers a new Juvenile Justice Bill.
With the help of the UNICEF Office in Guyana, the Ministry of Public Security hosted the first of three public consultation sessions on Thursday to gather feedback of the Bill, which is slated for the National Assembly later this year.
Opposition Members of Parliament Dr. Frank Anthony and Charles Ramson Jr. joined Government officials, members of several local Non Governmental Organisations, Senior Officials of the Child Care and Protection Agency and the Guyana Police Force for Wednesday’s session.
At the event, Public Security Minister, Khemraj Ramjattan, elaborated on prior recommendations which he believes, would be useful for consideration and inclusion in the Bill.
The recommendations also include ensuring that those persons below the age of 18 years are not tried as adults, but be given adequate special protection, amending Guyana’s Juvenile Offenders Act, originally enacted since 1931, to reflect international juvenile justice standards in accordance with the Beijing Rules and the Riyadh Guidelines, ensuring that children below 18-years-old charged with offences are provided with free legal assistance and improving training programmes for professionals involved, among others.
“In this day and age we have to provide a humane alternative to incarceration for the young law breakers. This certainly will assist in helping them avoid falling deeper into a life of crime, and helping our country from becoming a jailhouse nation,” the Minister said.
He is confident that the draft Bill makes provisions for this alternative. “Another very important principle which this Draft Bill deals with is the age of criminal responsibility. Should it be increased from its present ten (10) years to twelve (12) years or should it go up even further to sixteen (16) years? This consultation exercise will help in letting us policy-makers be informed as to how the people think,” he added.
Minister Ramjattan also supported the exclusion of status offences in the Draft Bill. “This Bill is a grand leap forward. Let your consultations today further improve and refine it.”
Also in attendance was Citizenship Minister, Winston Felix. (by Kurt Campbell)