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Sex offence screen

A parliamentary committee reviewing the Sexual Offences Act and related laws is considering making it mandatory for employers to check if individuals seeking jobs in specific professions have sexual offences records, and whether people indicted for the murder of pregnant women should be charged with double murder.

The issues came up during yesterday’s meeting of the joint select committee (JSC), chaired by Justice Minister Delroy Chuck.

The committee is looking, basically, at four current Acts — Sexual Offences, Child Care and Protection, Domestic Violence, and Offences Against the Person.

Children’s Advocate Diahann Gordon Harrison, whose office was established in 2006 under the Child Care and Protection Act (CCPA) and was mandated to enforce, protect and promote rights and best interests of all children in Jamaica, raised both issues.

Gordon Harrison said that her Office of the Children’s Advocate (OCA) would like to see the CCPA amended to make it mandatory for employers recruiting people in certain jobs obligated to consult with the Sexual Offenders Registry before employment.

“So, for example, if you are applying for a job to be a caretaker at a basic school, or a teacher in an environment where you have children, then certainly at least one of the issues in that background due diligence of a prospective employee would be for the employer to have access to the register to ensure that they are not in fact employing a registered sexual offender,” she explained.

There were no concerns raised by the committee to that suggestion. However, the issue of people charged with the murder of pregnant women being charged as well for the death of the woman’s foetus gave rise to a number of challenges.

“We are asking that… where an individual is accused of murdering a pregnant woman, he or she ought to be prosecuted for the death of the child, as well,” the children’s advocate urged the committee.

“At present in our legislation, even if the foetus is almost full-term, even if it is seven months, and perishes because of the death of the mother, we can only prosecute for the adult who has died in the circumstances. We would move that the committee consider, very seriously, making it possible for the prosecution, where appropriate, to indict for the murder of two persons,” she said.

Chuck said that it would be a “difficult” decision for the committee and the courts to make.

“In other words, I can see the conviction and sentence take into consideration the state of the victim. But, to say that you can die for two offences, that would be tough, because then you would be admitting that the foetus is alive, and that is not how our laws define life,” he said.

The children’s advocate insisted, however, that the proposal should be considered, because when a woman would have carried a baby for as much as eight-and-a-half months “that is life”.

Opposition Senator Mark Golding, under whose watch the original JSC to review the Acts was started in 2014, queried whether there would not be an issue if the woman was not manifestly pregnant.

“Would we still want that to apply , whether or not the perpetrator had any mens rea towards the foetus, because they weren’t even aware of its existence. Would you still want that?” Golding asked.

Gordon Harrison suggested that it would be up to the Parliament to be very particular in how the provision was worded.

She said that her office was aware of instances where, because of the man being married and involved with the pregnant woman in an extra-marital affair and she had become pregnant for him and would not have an abortion, murder was committed.

She said that the OCA would depend on Parliament to ensure that the amended law would not be open to abuse, and that the primary factors are preserved.

But Opposition Senator Sophia Frazer Binns said that she was wary about the recommendation on the basis that it would affect legislation covering abortion, for example in terms of determining whether the foetus could be considered as life, and other women’s rights issues.

“I am not saying that I am pro or against; however, I believe that it has to be considered in a very culturally relevant way,” she said.

She was not sure, she said, that the committee had given sufficient thought to the suggestion as policymakers.

Junior minister of education, youth and information Floyd Green said that it was a matter that should be considered, but suggested that it would require strong sentencing guidelines to support it.

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