– call for the age of criminal responsibility to be raisedBy Indrawattie NatramA public consultation was on Wednesday held in Region Two (Pomeroon-Supenaam) at the Richard FaikalA section of the gathering that attended the draft Juvenile Justice Bill 2015 consultationPolice College in Suddie to educate persons on the draft Juvenile Justice Bill 2015.The consultation was the third of its kind and was a collaborative effort between the Public Security Ministry and UNICEF.Delivering opening remarks was Region Two Chairman Devanand Ramdatt who said that the consultation should be standardised so that agencies and key stakeholders can express their views on the Bill.Speaking to key stakeholders, which included the heads of various youth groups, members of the Police Force; representatives of the Region Two Administration, Suddie Public Hospital, and New Opportunity Corps (NOC) and Neighbourhood Democratic Council (NDC) officials, Ramdatt said he was happy members of the NOC were involved in such consultations.The Regional Chairman noted that the age of criminal responsibility in Guyana was 10 years and he believed this should be raised. He opined that for the Bill to be passed, there must be a multi-stakeholder and inter-agency approach, and thorough networking, recommending that the Minister with responsibility for youth be the main advocate for sensitisation on the Bill.According to Ramdatt, most of the probation reports on juvenile cases lack quality and often young victims are wrongfully sentenced to the NOC. This, he said, can be eliminated with proper understanding and investigations. Often, he noted, children are being sent to the NOC for minor offences such as “wandering”, while other offenders spent less than a year at the NOC which he believes is insufficient time to socially rehabilitate them. Ramdatt said a key component of the Bill should be education and ways in which the teens’ lives could become meaningful through a business trade.He also recommended Government should play a role in providing quality infrastructure/holding facilities for children who are being sanctioned. He called on major stakeholders to express their views on the draft bill before it is passed, noting anything that involved children was important.Representing the Public Security Ministry was Courtney Samuels who said on April 27 and May 11, the Ministry convened the first and second consultation on the draft of the Juvenile Justice Bill in Georgetown and New Amsterdam respectively. Expounding on the purpose of the Bill, Samuels said it was to amend and consolidate the law in relation to criminal justice for juveniles as well as to provide establishment facilities for custody, education and rehabilitation for juvenile offenders and to repeal the Juvenile Offenders Act and the Training Schools Act.The consultations, he said, are expected to strengthen the existing draft and spur action for reforms/discussion in areas such as alternatives to sentences, the removal of status offences such as wandering, increasing the age of criminal responsibility and greater accountability and action across all sectors for the prevention of, treatment for and response to children in contact with the law.The Bill, he said, also plays a pivotal role in ensuring that detention is used as an absolute last resort, and there are programmes which promote prevention of children in contact with the law. The draft Juvenile Justice Bill is a comprehensive document which will tackle significant issues related to juvenile justice in Guyana.Attorney-at-Law Simone Morris Ramlall explained in detail key aspects of the Bill. The entire Bill, she said, is principally intended to reform young people to move on and lead a productive life after contact with the law, and to ensure their records are sealed and not used against him or her.Ramlall further explained that the Bill reflected the modern philosophy of juvenile justice in an effort to strengthen and make the justice system more responsive. The Bill also sought to provide a framework where professionals are in the forefront to support the State in assisting juveniles, as far as possible.The main focus, Ramlall noted, is to ensure that juveniles understand what wrong they did and for a sanction to be given for the error, but at the end of the sanction period, the child must be able to reintegrate smoothly into society. The Bill also focused on the role of the Police.Persons who attended the consultations called for an increase in the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14. There was also a call for intervention from religious organisations for first-time offenders in terms of counselling before putting the matter before the courts.Once the Bill becomes law, the Minister responsible for Public Security will have the responsibility of establishing facilities for juvenile custody and detention throughout Guyana.