Ar­madale vic­tim beg­ging for help

Jamaica Gleaner - - NEWS - Na­dine Wil­son-Har­ris Staff Re­porter na­dine.wil­son@glean­erjm.com

AT TWO months’ preg­nant, *Si­mone Black had to jump through a win­dow at the Ar­madale Cor­rec­tional Cen­tre to save her life and that of her un­born child af­ter a fire broke out at the fa­cil­ity in 2009, which re­sulted in seven deaths.

At the time, she was 16 years old and had been deemed to be in need of care and pro­tec­tion, as she was aban­doned by both her mother and fa­ther. Ar­madale was just one of sev­eral govern­ment fa­cil­i­ties she called home af­ter be­com­ing a ward of the state at age 13 years.

“Mi mother give me away from mi born. Mi go here and there, mi never did a go a school and those things, ’cause no­body was send­ing me to school. A so comes mi reach into the home. One lady carry mi there and said I would get good care in the home,” she shared with The Sun­day Gleaner.

Si­mone con­tin­ued to live a very no­madic life af­ter she left the govern­ment sys­tem, and this way of life is now be­ing blamed for her not be­ing among the six girls who last week were in­formed they will be com­pen­sated to the tune of $20 mil­lion af­ter suc­cess­fully su­ing the Govern­ment over their treat­ment at the fa­cil­ity. This is be­cause the Of­fice of the Chil­dren’s Ad­vo­cate, which filed the claims on be­half of sev­eral of the girls, was un­able to lo­cate her be­fore the six-year statu­tory lim­i­ta­tion to file a civil claim had ex­pired.

Chil­dren’s Ad­vo­cate Di­a­hann Gor­don Har­ri­son said Si­mone is just one of sev­eral of the girls who were af­fected dur­ing the Ar­madale fire but could not be found when it was time to file the claims. As such, it is now left to the court to de­ter­mine whether they can still be com­pen­sated.

“She is one of the girls who lit­er­ally went un­der­ground, and when we were try­ing to in­sti­tute the claims from way back when, this would have been from 2011, she just could not be found,” Gor­don-Har­ri­son said.

“By the time she resur­faced, the statu­tory lim­i­ta­tion, which is six years af­ter the event had passed, was up and so her claim was out of time, be­cause the law says, if you have some­thing that caused you harm and you want to bring an ac­tion in court, you have to do it within six years from the date of the in­ci­dent. But by the time she sur­faced, it was in the sev­enth year and so she was stat­ued barred,” Gor­don Har­ri­son ex­plained. How­ever, the chil­dren’s ad­vo­cate said her of­fice will con­tinue to make rep­re­sen­ta­tion for girls like Si­mone, but they were now await­ing a court date to see if they would en­ter­tain her claim.

DIF­FI­CULT CIR­CUM­STANCES

“All of them are in dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances – fi­nan­cially, emo­tion­ally and oth­er­wise. All of them suf­fered. I can­not even be­gin to imag­ine what it must be like to have been there on that night,” she stated. Si­mone, who con­tin­ued to suf­fer abuse af­ter leav­ing the govern­ment sys­tem, feels that while the money will not erase that painful night from her mem­ory, it will help her to pro­vide some sta­bil­ity for her­self and her chil­dren.

“Mi live here so and I live there so, some peo­ple put me up for now. I don’t re­ally have a steady place to live,” she said.

The Govern­ment had in­sisted, up un­til re­cently, that it would not com­pen­sate the girls who were at the St Ann-based chil­dren’s home at the time of the fire. This, in spite of a rec­om­men­da­tion by the United Na­tions Hu­man Rights Com­mit­tee in 2011 that the State should, as a mat­ter of ur­gency, ad­e­quately com­pen­sate the fam­i­lies of the vic­tims of the fire at the Ar­madale Ju­ve­nile Cor­rec­tional Cen­tre.

Ja­maica is sched­uled to ap­pear be­fore the Com­mit­tee in Geneva, Switzer­land, this week, where it will be ex­pected to de­fend its han­dling of sev­eral hu­man-rights is­sues. Gor­don Har­ri­son said she would not spec­u­late whether this im­pend­ing ap­pear­ance might have mo­ti­vated the Govern­ment’s change of heart to now award com­pen­sa­tion to the girls af­fected by the tragedy.

“All we can say is that we at the Of­fice of the Chil­dren’s Ad­vo­cate have al­ways main­tained that the mat­ter should be dealt with. We have al­ways been hop­ing that we would ar­rive at a set­tle­ment in terms of get­ting the money from the Govern­ment on be­half of the girls,” she said.

[* names changed to pro­tect iden­tity]

Di­a­hann Gor­don Har­ri­son

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