Q and A with The Office of The Children’s Advocate

Editor’s Note:

The following is a reprint of a blog post published by Do Good Jamaica on November 5, 2015.

 

As part of our campaign to increase awareness about children’s rights, we asked the Office of The Children’s Advocate to tell us a little about what it does, what are some of the major issues facing children and what are some of the things we should all know as Jamaicans about chilren’s rights.

It is important to note that the Office of The Children’s Advocate (OCA), a Commission of Parliament, is separate and independent of the Child Development Agency (CDA) which is an agency of the Ministry of Youth and Culture.  The OCA has a separate mandate, function and reporting mechanism from the CDA.

 

  1. What is the main role of the OCA?

The Office of The Children’s Advocate (OCA) is a Commission of Parliament charged with the mandate of enforcing an protecting the rights and best interests of all children in Jamaica, and is guided by Section 4 of the Child Care and Protection Act (CCPA).

As stipulated in the OCA’s mission statement, “we are committed to promoting the rights and best interests of children through vigilance, strategic partnerships, provision of timely, efficient and quality service to all our clients.”

The OCA is confident that its work will result in the fulfilment of its vision for our country’s future in which “children in Jamaica enjoy their rights to survival, development, protection and participation, as well as consideration of their best interests at all times.”

 

  1. The OCA defends the rights of all children in Jamaica. In fact, your mandate is to ‘protect and enforce the rights of children and promote their best interests at all times’. How does the organization fulfil that mandate? 

The OCA is able to fulfill its mandate through the structures we have in place.

These include:

  • Our robust Legal Department that offers legal services to any child who may need it, whether their matter/case is one that is criminal, civil, or a custody matter;
  • Our Investigations Department that conducts investigations into any matter where a child’s rights have been infringed;
  • The Public Education and Special Projects Department that provides education and the promotion of children’s rights to all audiences.

The OCA also reviews legislation and policies and make recommendations to Parliament and any Minister on issues that affect children. The Office also issues best practices and guidance on matters pertaining to children and how best to address them.

 

  1. Tell us more about the advocacy aspect of the OCA. What does that entail?

The OCA’s advocacy is done in a structured manner.

The Children’s Advocate is very vocal on legal issues and utilizes the media to ensure that persons are hearing the OCA’s position on specific matters.

Public interactions (events, fora, information fairs, etc.), initiatives such as the OCA’s school tour, training sessions for the Police, Justices of The Peace (JPs), teachers, etc., are also some of the ways we advocate for children.

The OCA also takes its advocacy inside the courts, as we can appear in any matter pertaining to a child as Friends of The Court, even if we are not representing/arguing the matter in court.

The OCA has that legal authority to observe proceedings, therefore we exercise this right when necessary.

 

  1. What are some of the OCA’s biggest challenges and what can be done by the public to help solve them?

Human resource and financial constraints, and the “see no evil hear no evil” phenomenon continue to be the biggest challenges for the OCA.

  • In terms of the human and financial constraints there needs to be a greater focus on how allocations are made in the child protection sector.
  • Person’s unwillingness to corporate with an investigation and tell what they know also continues to be a challenge.
  • The public needs to understand the importance of speaking out against child abuse and child rights infringements and not being afraid to tell what they know.

 

  1. Based on all the news, facts and statistics in the public, what are some of the major issues facing children at this time?

The psychological/emotional and sexual abuse of our girls, and the physical abuse of our boys are some of the major issues facing children. We have received reports of other forms of abuse affecting our children, however the ones listed continue to be the main ones affecting our children based on our statistics.

Another issue affecting our children which concerns the OCA is the insufficient avenues in which children can actively participate in decisions that affect them. The OCA is however doing its best to effect change in this area, as we have an active Children’s Advisory Panel, with which we meet once per month to get feedback on issues affecting them and their peers.

 

  1.  What is the most important element/thing members of the OCA want the average Jamaican to understand about children’s rights?

Children are entitled to the same rights as adults. They are just younger, but FULL rights holders as well.

While children still have to be guided on how to preserve their own rights and those of others, as well as the responsibilities that come with these rights, our responsibility as adults is to ensure they are protected as they are vulnerable.

 

Persons who wish to learn more about children’s rights can visit our website at: www.oca.gov.jm. They can also find us on social media:  https://www.facebook.com/OCAJamaica (Facebook);@OCAJamaica1 (Twitter).

 

For more in our series on children’s rights, visit dogoodjamaica.org/childrensrights that has all the rights listed and links to our blog posts and other information.  Visit us on Facebook: Do Good Jamaica, Twitter: @doGOODJamaica and Instagram: @doGOODJamaica and follow the hashtag #dogood4children

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