Tue | May 30, 2023

‘I am sorry for my actions’

Eastern parish judges embark on initiatives to rescue children in conflict with the law

Published:Monday | June 6, 2022 | 12:05 AMBarbara Gayle/Gleaner Writer

Serious concerns about the large number of youth facing the law in the parishes of Portland, St Mary, and St Thomas prompted the Eastern Circuit Children’s Court to implement several programmes in observance of May as Child Month to motivate them to transform their lives.

“One of the programmes is the School Intervention Drive, where we have been visiting selected schools within our circuit, engaging children in dialogue in an effort to bring a message of awareness to matters affecting them, how they respond and how their voices can be heard,” noted Parish Judge Sahai Whittingham Maxwell, chairperson of the Eastern Circuit Children’s Court (ECCC).

The programmes were initiated as a result of police officers in the parishes reaching out to the court for help because of the high percentage of children who were in conflict with the law because of ignorance, she disclosed.

It is reported that approximately 160 children, between the ages of 12 and 18, are before those Children’s Courts for offences.

Issues such as drug abuse, sexual abuse, pornography, domestic violence, human trafficking, crime and violence that are plaguing and distracting the children are highlighted in the programmes. The children are redirected to focus on their education and make the right choices for future career paths.

“It is in that regard that we are promoting another initiative, Let Your Book Be Your Weapon of Choice, for Child Month, but it will be an ongoing thing,” Judge Whittingham Maxwell told The Sunday Gleaner, noting that they were aiming to equip the students with the right tools through increased awareness to make better choices.

Their intention is to visit as many schools as possible in the parishes.


On May 9, students at the Port Antonio High School in Portland were engaged in a rap session with the judge and court staff on topical issues. The students were asked to write essays as to where they see themselves in 10 years and challenged to create vision boards to help them maintain focus on their future plans.

In their essays, many of the children were apologetic for committing offences and have pledged to be hard-working, productive citizens.

“I will stop surrounding myself with people who don’t have my best interest at heart. I know I can do better and I am sorry for my action. I will attend all my classes, I want to be someone who people will look up to as their role model. I want to be a teacher and make the world a better place,” wrote one child.

Last year, the ECCC started an art and book drive to assist children who were facing added challenges at home as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, as many were being left behind, especially those in rural communities. Several students were assisted with tablets and were able to connect for online classes.

Judge Whittingham Maxwell highlighted the fact that many households only had one phone as a device to be shared for up to five children.

“This drive is ongoing and is supported by the Jamaica Association of Women Judges who officially launched ‘Booking for Change’ on January 18 this year,” the judge shared.


Adults who are tasked with caring for children are encouraged to listen to them and act in their best interest because if they fail to do so, then their voices will be heard by others whose intentions may be to abuse and take advantage of their vulnerabilities, the judge pointed out.

“Let us listen up and help them to make their books their weapons of choice. Let us help them to create something positive out of the negatives they are faced with before the courts,” she stressed.

Another initiative, the Child Diversion Programme, the judge said, was working very well in the three eastern parishes. It was established by the Ministry of Justice to rehabilitate youth 12 to 17 years who have committed certain offences, so as to reduce the number of children exposed to the criminal justice system and empower communities to resocialise child offenders.

Judges and police officers refer cases to the programme, which also helps to steer children in conflict with the law away from delinquent behaviour by providing positive alternatives as part of the rehabilitation.

“I am more aware about sex and how to approach it, I was ignorant before but now I know what not to do,” stated one youth who has successfully completed the Child Diversion Programme.

Judge Whittingham Maxwell declared, “The court recognised the needs based on the nature of the issues confronting children before the court and is encouraged and motivated to continue to touch and transform the minds of the nation’s children so that they leave the court better than they entered.”