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Children's Bill for Consultation

Hon Minister Anthony S Eden, OBE, JP

Draft amendments to the Children Law (2003 Revision) propose granting parental rights to unmarried fathers and step-parents equal to those of married parents and legal guardians. Another amendment, with implications for individuals working with and caring for children, would require that suspected cases of child abuse or neglect be reported.

The Children (Amendment) Bill 2008, tabled by Health and Human Services Minister, the Hon. Anthony S. Eden, OBE, JP, in the 5 December sitting of the Legislative Assembly, will be circulated as a draft consultation bill until 5 January 2009.

"As part of the Ministry's strategic plan, the welfare of children has been given top priority in the promotion of a human development agenda within the Cayman Islands," Minister Eden explained.

Further, the Bill modernises Cayman's current legal provisions regarding children's welfare. Once enacted, it will also allow the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child to be applied to the Cayman Islands.

While Cayman's laws already provide that an unmarried father is entitled to parental rights and responsibility if he makes a successful application to the court, this Bill now provides an additional avenue. Fathers who are not married to the mother of their child at the time of birth, but who register the child's birth along with the mother, will be entitled to parental responsibility. This amendment seeks to facilitate responsible fatherhood, in cases where at the birth of a child, the parents are not legally married.

Under the Bill step-parents will also be given this right. 'Parental responsibility' is defined as all the rights, duties, powers, responsibility and authority which a parent has, by law, over the child, and over his or her property.

The Bill also requires professionals, including medical practitioners, pharmacists, dentists, psychologists, probation officers, social workers and ministers of religion, to notify the Department of Children and Family Services if child abuse or neglect is suspected. This parallels requirements in child protection acts passed in other Caribbean territories, including Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica and Bermuda. It seeks to ensure that the practitioners most likely to be early points of contact with cases of child abuse or neglect, are in no doubt about how to meet their professional obligations for immediate response.

The amendment is structured so as to protect these persons from civil or criminal liability, and to assure confidentiality once notification is received. Failure to notify the Department however will attract a fine of $2,000, or imprisonment for a term of six months. In some cases both sanctions may apply.

Until the 5 January deadline, all residents are encouraged to familiarise themselves with, and offer feedback on, the proposed amendments. A link to the Bill is available on the Legislative Assembly's website www.legislativeassembly.ky , under House Business/Bills; or on the Cayman Islands Government website www.gov.ky , under Features at the top-right of the homepage.

For further information contact: Kenisha Morgan