Social ills require a greater focus

As the government moves into its third year in office, promised steps to address violent crime and protections for vulnerable segments of our society must be given more urgent priority.

After recording a decrease in murders last year, murders this year are once again showing a marked increase with firearms continuing to be the primary weapon of choice for assailants.

A timeline on promised legislation to establish a Guns and Gang Unit to focus on dismantling gangs and disrupting the trafficking of illicit firearms has not been stated but should be, as law enforcement and the wider public grapple with the ongoing scourge of gun-related crimes and the violence of gangs that routinely target youngsters for membership.

Legislation to create the National Crime Intelligence Agency has passed both houses of Parliament, but since its passage, no announcement has been made on the appointment of a director of the agency or the establishment of the agency’s Review Committee, which is to be a joint committee of the House and Senate.

A function of the challenge in reducing rates of crime committed by the country’s young men has been in establishing formalized mechanisms to enable prison inmates to positively re-enter society and to have viable opportunities for gainful employment that provide options away from a life of crime.

Pursuant to the Rehabilitation of Offenders (Amendment) Act, 2015, a Rehabilitation of Offenders Committee was appointed this year, according to National Security Minister Marvin Dames.

Part of that committee’s work includes a review of applications for expungement of records by first-time offenders and offenders who were under the age of 21 at the time of their conviction.

Though the government has not said whether it intends to shorten, by legislation, the length of time one must wait to apply for expungement for certain categories of offenses, it has promised legislation to address the conditional release of offenders into society through a Parole and Probation of Offenders system.

Regarding the rights and protection of children in our society, it is critical that the government fulfill its promise to bring the Child Protection Act, 2007 into full force by establishing regulations to govern the Children’s Registry and the creation of the Office of Minors Advocate.

A minors advocate works for the interests and rights of children, particularly children who are in vulnerable circumstances or are victims of abuse.

As documented cases of child neglect and abuse increase, it is vital that our children have an agency that works especially for them, particularly in a culture where many believe children have no rights other than what a parent or adult decides they should have.

Another important and vulnerable segment of our society is the disabled, who continue to face challenges with respect to accessibility at public and private buildings.

The government promised to appoint disability inspectors to assist with the monitoring and enforcing of the provisions of the Persons with Disabilities Act.

Provision 21 of the act, which came into force on December 31, 2017, states that “a proprietor of any building to which the public is permitted access shall adapt it to suit persons with disabilities in such manner as may be specified by the commission including provision for parking of vehicles by persons with disabilities”.

The commission is the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities and as recently as May of this year, commission member Peter Goudie was quoted in The Tribune as saying government had yet to hire disability inspectors, which in effect hindered the commission from carrying out its functions in this regard.

The government also promised to enact legislation to make the misuse of accessible parking an offense with penalties, a vexing practice that violates the rights of the disabled.

Of the new offenses introduced in the Road Traffic Amendment Act, 2019 the misuse of handicapped parking spaces was not included.

A greater level of precedence for these matters is needed.

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