St. Thomas

St. John

St.Croix

BILLS ADVANCE TO PROTECT CHILDREN AGAINST CHILD ABUSE, CHILD NEGLECT AND FORCED MARRIAGES  

Published: Jul 22, 2021

 ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Rules and Judiciary chaired by Sen. Milton E. Potter, convened in a meeting at the Capitol Building and voted favorably for bills that strengthen the consequences for committing crimes such as child abuse, child neglect, and marriage of a child in the Virgin Islands. Invited testifiers were officials from the Virgin Islands Department of Human Services (VIDHS), the Women’s Coalition of St. Croix, the Family Resource Center, the Lutheran Social Services, and the Greater Changes. All items approved will be forwarded to the Full Body for further consideration.

Lawmakers received testimony on Bill No. 34-0030 that seeks to amend the judicial consent for the marriage of a child, Bill No. 34-0031 to increase penalties for child neglect, and Bill No. 34-0032 to require an abuser of a child to seek counseling. Senator Potter stated that when our families are in crisis, the communities will be in crisis. These are visionary legislation recognizing the value of counseling and its effectiveness over the years. The sponsor of the bills, Senator Javan James, Sr. stated that it has been far too long that our children have been abused, neglected, and forced to marry and it is time to stop these heinous crimes. Similarly, Sen. Novelle Francis, Jr. noted that child marriage not only ends the individual’s childhood but adversely impacts their quality of life. Concurringly, Women’s Coalition of St. Croix Executive Director Clema Lewis, MA mentioned that many forced marriages of underage girls end with them being abused by their mates. There is rarely a case with a positive outcome.

Moreover, Child and Youth Counselor Therapist Cacki Barrett stated that by implementing mandated counseling for perpetrators of child abuse, a centralized focus on treatment and education can be provided to help individuals create a positive family life. Lewis shared that a total of 139 children received counseling who suffered from child abuse on St. Croix. Furthermore, the National Child Advocacy Center estimated that in 2019 at least 78% of children were victimized by parents, 22% of abusers were previously abused, and 98% of victims never became abusers after receiving treatment. Although in support of counseling, in a written statement submitted to the Legislature of the Virgin Islands from VIDHS, Commissioner Kimberly Causey-Gomez requested that counseling should not be mandated because the Family Court Judge ultimately orders case-specific rehabilitative services to the families.

 

Policymakers voted and approved the following:

  • Bill No. 34-0030- An Act amending Title 4, Virgin Islands Code, chapter 11, section 172 relating to the Virgin Islands Superior Court’s jurisdiction over children to divest the court of jurisdiction over judicial consent for the marriage of a child. The bill was sponsored by Senator Javan James, Sr.  and co-sponsored by Senator Franklin Johnson.
  • Bill No. 34-0031- An Act amending Title 14, Virgin Islands Code, chapter 24, section 504 relating to the penalties for child neglect to require the convicted person to attend counseling in addition to imprisonment or fine. The bill is sponsored by Senator Javan James, Sr. and co-sponsored by senators Franklin Johnson and Carla Joseph.
  • Bill No. 34-0032- An Act amending Title 14, Virgin Islands Code, chapter 24, section 505 relating to child abuse to require a person who abuses a child to seek counseling. The bill is sponsored by Senator Javan James, Sr.  and co-sponsored by senators Franklin Johnson and Carla Joseph.

 

Senators in attendance: Chairman Milton E. Potter, Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Steven D. Payne, Franklin D. Johnson, Kenneth L. Gittens, and Carla J. Joseph.                                                                                    ###

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