Jamaica: IACHR expresses concern regarding the proposed increase in minimum sentences for children

December 28, 2023

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Washington, D.C.- The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) is concerned about the proposed amendments to the Child Care and Protection Act of Jamaica which seek to impose higher mandatory minimum sentences for children. The Commission reiterates that the practice of deprivation of liberty of children in juvenile justice system must be used as a last resort, only by way of exception, and for as short a time as possible.
According to official information, the Government introduced the proposed amendments to the Child Care and Protection Act in February 2023. The amendment Bill proposes to impose a higher mandatory sentence of not less than 20 years for children convicted of murder in the State. According to the Government, the increase in mandatory minimum sentences is to curb the level of violence in the country and, specifically, reduce the number of murders. In April 2023, the Senate appointed a select committee to review the Bill and according to public information, the Bill is still being considered by the committee.
Under the Child Care and Protection Act, the age of criminal liability in Jamaica is 12 years old. In case the amendment Bill is approved, 12-years-old children could be subject to high penalties almost double their age. This is especially worrisome considering that children are judged in the same courts as adult offenders, which means that they might not be judged with a specific children’s rights approach.
The Commission remembers that pursuant to Article 19 of the American Convention on Human Rights and Article VII of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, States have an obligation to take special measures to protect children. In its report on Juvenile Justice and Human Rights in the Americas, the IACHR underscored that children imprisonment must be used only as a last resort, and for the shortest appropriate period. Moreover, any sentence given to a child should consider the individual background and circumstances of the child.
Therefore, even in the case of serious crimes that carry heavy penalties, the law must offer the judge the means to enforce this type of penalty in a manner consistent with the best interests of the child. Moreover, in case of trial or punishment, the IACHR remembers that States must do everything within their power to ensure social reintegration of children in the juvenile justice system. In consequence, the Commission calls on the State to consider policies and measures in accordance with international standards and the principle of the best interest of the child.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 324/23

4:30 PM