Harrison Henry: It would be wrong
Public defender says legislation allowing children under 16 to be vaccinated without parental consent would send bad messageSunday, September 19, 2021
BY ROMARDO LYONS
Public Defender Arlene Harrison Henry has said that the only recourse for children under age 16, who want to get vaccinated against COVID-19 but don't have parental consent, is the introduction of legislation that will allow minors to seek medical care without parental guidance.
Though opposing views on the Pfizer vaccine — which is now being administered to children 12 years and older — is causing a rift between some teenagers and their parents, Henry said she advises against any such legislation as it would send an inappropriate and harmful message.
“They have to be guided by their parents. How would we make this departure? We have, in law, the age of criminal responsibility at 12, age of consent in relation to sexual activities at 16, and we have to get parental consent to marry before the age of 18. Parents normally have to give consent, voluntary informed consent, for children to receive medical treatment. That is standard around the world. I don't know what would change that now,” Henry told the Jamaica Observer in an interview.
“Only legislation to say that an underaged child could say, 'I have the right to be vaccinated', and I think that would be sending a wrong message to the community, where children can go against the advice of parents. It would send a dreadfully wrong signal that a child can make a decision contrary to the advice of parents. It would be wrong.”
Section 6 of the Child Care and Protection Act requires that the authorities be called in when minors visit health facilities for medical treatment and section 8 of the Law Reform Age of Majority Act stipulates that only a child who has attained the age of 16 can consent to any medical treatment. Otherwise, consent must be given by a parent or legal guardian.
But, over the years, there have been numerous agencies that have attempted to bypass that stipulation.
Last month the Jamaica Youth Advocacy Network appealed to the Ministry of Health and Wellness to facilitate the vaccination of children 16 and older without parental consent.
In 2017 the Jamaica Aids Support for Life urged officials to allow the testing and treatment of minors under 16 without parental permission. This came after the association saw children as young as 11 years old presenting symptoms of sexually transmitted infections.
In 2013 the National Family Planning Board, citing information that, over 60 per cent of the students in a single grade at a Corporate Area high school are parents, urged policymakers to make sexual and reproductive health information and services available to sexually active minors, despite the age of consent for sexual intercourse being 16.
Henry insisted that parents maintain the right for anything concerning the health of their children, who are underage.
“Health is a personal responsibility, and parents have that responsibility for their children, and that is why we had always, from March 2020, recommended a community approach to the fight against the pandemic — community approach and community engagement — so that when we reach the vaccine stage everyone would have a better understanding of what is what,” she told the Sunday Observer.
“So, I think what really needs to be done is public education in relation to the vaccine, emphasis on community participation in how we take steps to contain the virus, and persuasion of persons and not coercion.”
Henry added, however, that the Office of the Public Defender is not insisting that anyone be vaccinated.
“I'm not insisting on that at all. I do not believe in mandatory vaccinations. I do not believe in compulsory vaccinations. I think there is need for discussion, there is need for greater transparency, and much more public education. Gone are the days when because somebody says, 'Go and get the vaccine,' another person jumps up and get it. People are way more questioning of this set of vaccines, as is their right.”
Instead, Henry said greater transparency as to the overall strategic plan to bring the virus under control is required.
“And that is if that is possible at this time. How do we plan, as a country, to live with it, because that seems to be really where we're going — to find ways and means of living in an environment with corona. That is how it seems to me. The country needs greater transparency in how decisions are arrived at. For instance, opening up all the varying sectors in July. We did the same thing last year with the same end result,” she lamented.
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