CALLS for a toughening of laws dealing with child sexual abuse, improper conduct of persons in high positions, child maintenance, and the family seem to have struck a sensitive chord in National Security and Home Affairs Minister, Hermangild Francis.
On Thursday, his office issued a statement in which the Minister claimed that government has his full support in ensuring stiffer penalties are put in place in this year as there are some areas where the law is being disobeyed with impunity.
“Minister Francis says many recommendations have been identified and the Attorney General’s Chambers has been working assiduously to frame the relevant bills. He says those new or reinforced laws will be pivotal to building a more equitable, just and law-abiding country,” noted the statement.
The statement further noted that the Minister, as a guest on “Police Insight” on Monday night on MBC cable channel, alongside Deputy Commissioner of Police, Milton Desir, indicated an intent to have the Domestic Violence Act amended to allow a third party to report domestic altercations to the police for action.
He also said the Child Justice Bill and the Child Care, Protection and Adoption Bill are down to come before Parliament. The statement also said that a review of the Affiliation Act — commonly referred to as the Child Maintenance Order — would allow for a “means test” to be used to determine how much parents are able to pay for child support. Currently, payments to mothers or custodians amount to $50 per week, or $200 per month.
The announcement by the Minister comes alongside those made by Opposition Leader, Philip J. Pierre, and other non-governmental organizations over enacting laws that relate to the care of children.
Videos depicting children engaged in sex acts are common occurrences in St. Lucia. Calls for the protection of children from such acts and stiff penalties for perpetrators of such criminal acts are constantly being made. One such video currently circulating on social media has drawn condemnation from a wide cross-section of society.
Pierre, on Thursday, called on the police to get involved by investigating the person/s involved in the video, question them or simply do what is necessary in cases like that.
“I want to absolutely condemn that video circulating about the schoolgirl. It is horrible, it is an affront to our society, it is an affront to the young people of the country. I want to absolutely condemn it and I think the people who are circulating it need to stop. The person who is seen in the video abusing this innocent child…I am not one of those who subscribe to the saying that children can take responsibilities for their action. No child can take responsibility for his/her action,” Pierre said.
In that video, an older boy is seen sexually abusing a uniformed under-aged school girl, going as far as slapping the child about her head.
“I think the law must come into play. The State should take all necessary steps to protect children,” Pierre said.
The group “Raise Your Voice” has been unceasing in its fight for better treatment of women, girls and children by the State through the enactment of laws like the OECS Family Law Bill and other such legislation.
Minister Francis himself is on record making a case for the age of sexual consent to move from 16 years to 18 years.
While a time-frame for the coming into law of some of the bills geared to protect children has not been identified, the fact that such laws are being discussed at a governmental level is a step in the right direction.
The Minister also said the Counter-Tracking Act, the Firearms Act and the introduction or reinforcement of laws that will speak to the use of breathalyzers, radar guns and non-lethal weapons among other areas, are on the cards.
He indicated that more initiatives where law enforcement is concerned will be outlined when the 2018/2019 national budget is presented in April.