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Saturday, June 24, 2006 

OUR CARIBBEAN: Social rights challenges for action
Published on: 6/23/06.


IN THE FACE of strident public debate on controversial contemporary social issues, like legalising prostitution, sanctioning use of condoms in prison and decriminalising, as an offence, possession of small quantities of marijuana, there came two significant developments over the past week:

The Jamaica Senate broke new ground in that nation's parliamentary history last Friday when it passed a resolution for the enactment of legislation requiring a minimum (repeat, minimum) 25 years imprisonment for anyone convicted of rape.

In Barbados, Ralph Boyce, head of men's rights group, Men's Educational Support Association (MESA), last weekend strongly urged the overhauling of an anachronistic Maintenance Act to include provisions for DNA testing for verification of a father, as necessary, as well as punishment of mothers also (not just fathers) who violate decisions of the court. (See SUNDAY SUN, June 18).

As one who has long been supportive of women's rights, and had the privilege of working with regional human rights groups, including women's organisations battling against domestic violence, gender discrimination and sexual harassment, I think the powers-that-be should move with some haste in giving objective consideration to the case for DNA testing and general critical review of the Maintenance Act, as articulated by Boyce.

At the same time, tougher punitive measures should be taken to arrest domestic violence that's leaving too many battered and, worse, dead women.

The trauma, the agony being experienced in too many communities in too many Caribbean states, of heinous acts of rape of women and children, among them little girls and boys, may yet drive other lawmakers within CARICOM to emulate the initiative by the Jamaica Senate to significantly increase the legal penalty for rapists.

The sickening horrors of the rapists include murdering some of their victims, among them children, with cases also linked to the grievous challenging problem of child labour in various sectors.

While some countries continue to be vague about problems of child labour and engage in public moralising and breast-beating about the evils of sex crimes, Jamaica seems to be moving in a more co-ordinated manner to address the challenges of children as fodder for cheap labour and, worse the sex trade.

Consequently, even as the Jamaica Senate was approving the motion calling for legislation with a minimum jail term of 25 years for convicted rapists, its Ministry of Labour was finalising arrangements for a national "action programme" to effectively curb exploitation of child labour with the assistance of local and foreign experts.

The findings of a two-year study point to some 2.2 per cent or at least 18 000 of Jamaica's children being engaged in "the worse forms of child labour, among them commercial sex and hazardous work", according to a report in the June 18 Sunday Observer.

At a period of plenty exhortations about the need for more co-ordinated efforts to strengthen economic integration and functional co-operation, it would be encouraging to learn of regional initiatives for what at least approximate uniformity in new relevant legislation to deal with crimes of rape, trafficking in persons, including children, for the sex trade and cheap labour within and beyond national borders.

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