Danger looming

A local Christian group is raising alarm over Jamaica’s pending ratification of what it describes as a “comprehensive new binding 20-year agreement with the European Union (EU) that will reintroduce the rejected Comprehensive Sexuality Education Curriculum back into Jamaican classrooms and undermine Jamaicans’ fundamental rights and freedoms”.

The new pact, to be called the Samoa Agreement, is scheduled to be signed on November 15 at the African Caribbean and Pacific (ACP)-EU Ministerial meeting in Samoa, despite strong pushback from several citizens’ groups here to what has been described as “the glaring danger of multiple clauses” in the pending ACP-EU Agreement.

“The agreement will bind Jamaica to undefined human rights obligations tied to trade sanctions, reintroduce comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) back into schools despite parents’ outrage in 2012 with regards to CSE’s sexualising content; trap the nation in yet-to-be-negotiated international instruments, and demand the acceptance of terms that directly threaten citizens’ freedom of conscience and speech among other alarming concerns,” Jamaica Coalition for a Healthy Society (JCHS) said in a statement to the media on Thursday.

The obligations referenced by the JCHS are contained in Articles: 101(7) General Pact; 48(7), Caribbean Pact; 36(2) General Pact; 9(2) and 20(1), General Pact of the Agreement.

The coalition said for 27 months it and seven other Jamaican NGOs have been impressing upon the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade to take heed of the obvious threats to Jamaica’s national sovereignty in the current language of the agreement.

“We are not alone in warning our Government about the dangers of this agreement,” JCHS Chairman Dr Wayne West said in the statement.

“The Government of Namibia has this week wisely pulled out of signing the agreement. They cited similar concerns to the Jamaican NGOs as well as their suspicion of the alleged removal by the EU, after negotiations were closed, of a provision allowing reservations by countries. This questionable action needs to be explained and challenged,” he said.

JCHS Legal Counsel Shirley Richards has, in the meantime, pointed to the frustrated efforts of the groups in trying to hold dialogue with government decision-makers.

Richards said that at the Office of the Prime Minister’s Education Town Hall in September 2022, Foreign Affairs Minister Senator Kamina Johnson Smith had promised the nation that Jamaica was not going to be party to any agreement that would be detrimental to our children.

“We subsequently wrote asking how she would keep this promise. It’s now more than one year later and she has not answered this question,” Richards said.

“At the same town hall meeting, the minister of education invited concerned parents to meet with her. However, attempts to set up a meeting went unanswered by that ministry,” Richards added.

The JCHS said although Prime Minister Andrew Holness has emphasised his commitment to preserving national values and sovereignty in the pending new ACP-EU Agreement, the group is still of the opinion that “the security of Jamaica’s laws are in peril, as signing an agreement without knowledge of its true scope is, in effect, signing a binding blind commitment”.

The JCHS said it and the seven NGOs will be publicly defending their human rights and freedoms, along with other citizens.

The coalition has called on all other “concerned Jamaicans to make their voices publicly heard on this matter of great importance”.

In 2012, there was public uproar over the health and family life education curriculum being taught in schools, with concerns that aspects of it encouraged homosexuality. It was subsequently withdrawn and revised in 2013 with then Education Minister Ronald Thwaites indicating that it was now age-appropriate and sensitive to the traditional beliefs and practices of the Jamaican society.