Jamaican children in police lockups are truly "nobody's children." Whether they are accused of offenses or have been taken into police custody because they are "in need of care and protection," they languish in filthy, overcrowded cells for weeks and months on end. They eat stale, rotten and inadequate food and sleep on damp concrete or urine-soaked bits of newspaper or cardboard, crammed in with other prisoners who are frequently adults accused of violent crimes. The children are rarely permitted out into the fresh air, and receive no regular exercise, education, or health care. At times, they are physically abused by other prisoners or by the police themselves. Meanwhile, Jamaican state agencies vie with one another to disclaim all responsibility for the children's plight.
It doesn't have to be this way: Substantial improvements could be effected by improving coordination between government agencies to ensure that children are not held in police lockups, by allocating resources to create and maintain institutions capable of responding appropriately to the plight of children in need of care and protection and to those children who come into conflict with the law, and by, at a minimum, ensuring that, until these changes become reality, police lockups are made fit places for human beings to live. Not all of these measures can be realized overnight. But by initiating change and encouraging state agencies to assume proactive responsibility for the plight of children, the Jamaican government could begin to comply with its obligations under international human rights law-and to prevent the needless suffering of so many children.