Front Page
November 26, 2004


The local justice system is in breach of at least two articles of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the administration of juvenile justice.

The international rules on juvenile detention are known as “The Beijing Rules” as they were adopted in 1985 at a conference in Beijing, China. {{more}}

Article 13, paragraph 2 of “The Beijing Rules” states: “Whenever possible, detention of juveniles pending trial shall be replaced by alternative measures such as close supervision, intensive care or placement with a family or in an education setting or home.”

The same article, in its fourth paragraph states: “While in custody, juveniles shall receive care, protection and all necessary individual assistance – social, educational, vocational, psychological, medical and physical – that they may require in view of their age, sex and personality.”

At present, a number of juveniles aged 11 to 14 years old, including one female, are detained at the Central Police Station in Kingstown. This group includes a 14-year-old who joined the number of juvenile detainees at the Central Police Station after he was arrested last week in connection with the murder of police constable Elson Richardson whose body was found at Belle Vue on Sunday 14.

President of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Human Rights Association Nicole Sylvester described the detention of juveniles as “a serious issue from a human rights standpoint” because children are considered as being very vulnerable.

Sylvester said conventions ratified ensure that the state must ensure there are certain minimum guarantees given to children.

“One of them is that children should be treated in a manner which promotes their sense of dignity and worth, which facilitates their re-integration into society, and which reflects the best interest of the child and which takes into account the needs of the person of that age,” stated Sylvester.

She added that quite a number of children are held at the Central Police Station because we do not have a facility for juveniles.

“There is a duty upon the state, having ratified that convention [“The Beijing Rules”] to ensure that a juvenile facility is in place.”

The Human Rights president stated that the detention or imprisonment of children should be an extreme measure of last resort and that a sentence dealing with jail time should reflect the shortest possible time.

The outspoken Sylvester outlined that the fact that there are juveniles living at the Central Police Station is not in keeping with what is required.

“While we do not condone the actions of juveniles who somehow infringe the law, we are saying that the state has a responsibility to protect them and treat them in a manner that is keeping with the convention they have ratified,” said Sylvester.

She revealed that in a letter written to the Human Rights Association by the police, it was recognised that their standards are not of the best and revealed that the situation is one that they are not proud of.

“We are not concerned with the pride or otherwise of the police; what we are concerned about is that there is an obligation under the state to ensure that they protect the juveniles,” said Sylvester.

“Further than that, while these juveniles are being detained, they are not receiving an education so that they can be properly re-integrated into society when they are released.”

She said the three boys currently on remand and among those at the station are not being educated. “We do not know what the outcome of the cases would be so what would happen to them if they are freed,” Sylvester said.

Sylvester is also of the opinion that the detention of the juveniles at the Central Police Station puts strain and stress on the police officers because they are not trained to deal with the situation. She said that it also puts a strain on the justice system because the court is being hampered on how to properly deal with juveniles.

Superintendent Carlyle Ryan, in charge of the Central Division of the police, admitted that there are currently eight juveniles being held at the Central Police Station. He said there are two Guyanese who could possibly be deported, but immigration officials were trying to allow them to be released in the care of their aunt. “But we just don’t do things like that; there is a procedure you must go through,” he said.

Four of the other juvenile detainees were sentenced to remain in police custody and perform community service, while three others were remanded in relation to several matters including burglary. Superintendent Ryan explained that, because of their tender ages, they could not be placed at Her Majesty’s Prisons. He assured that the detainees are getting whatever meals they are entitled to under the law.

Meanwhile, co-ordinator of the Human Rights Association Inez Cuffy said that the lone female detained has not committed a crime, but has been detained by immigration authorities who are searching for her mother, a resident of Guyana, who has overstayed her time here.

The 14-year-old girl has an 11-year-old brother who is also being detained at the station. The two are housed in the same area with a number of other juvenile offenders detained for crimes ranging from theft to burglary.

While in this area, the juveniles are not given any form of educational, vocational or psychological assistance. An official said that one of the only forms of supervision, besides the obvious, that the children are given is when they are escorted away from the area to use the bathroom. They also do not have a proper sleeping area and most times use the bench for resting.

A release from the SVGHRA stated that in 1993, a call was made to the authorities protesting this kind of treatment of juveniles who fall afoul of the law. The release further revealed that a letter was sent to the then Attorney General, Parnel Campbell, requesting that the proper facilities be made available to house the unfortunate children. To date, the situation remains the same, the release charges.

However, authorities here have promised that come December, a place will be provided for juveniles who commit crimes.

The Ministry of National Security is currently looking for a building in which to house the youths. But until that place is found, young criminals will have to remain at their current location.

Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of National Security Godfrey Pompey, said the ministry has located a property in Arnos Vale, as the Minister of National Security Sir Vincent Beache was mandated by Parliament to find a place to house the youths.

Pompey said that negotiations are currently underway with the owner of the property and, by December, the building should be converted into a temporary housing unit for the young offenders.

He also noted that another location had been found earlier, but the repairs needed to be done to the government-owned property were too extensive.

The issue also came up for debate during the question and answer segment of the annual Marlene Arthur Memorial Lecture held at the Methodist Church Hall in Kingstown on November 13. Rising to make a comment, director of the National Commission for the Prevention of Crime, Genita Lewis, said that the new jail that is currently being built at Belle Isle Hill will have a section for under-aged offenders.

Lewis said they would be housed in a separate location, but in the same facility of the new jail. She said the fact that juveniles were housed at the Central Police Station is of great concern, and that the relevant authorities are working to deal with the situation.