Barbados Minister of Home Affairs, Information and Public Affairs, Wilfred Abrahams has disclosed that a new child protection law, which he says will be the country’s most progressive piece of legislation, will be considered by Cabinet in the coming days.
Abrahams said there will also be a new child justice bill.
The Home Affairs Minister was speaking over the weekend at a press conference as he gave an update on an investigation into a 14-year-old girl in the female unit of the Governmental Industrial School (GIS) – a state facility for wayward children – being photographed naked in a cell. The incident was the subject of a newspaper report.
“Up to Friday, the day before the story broke, we were in a long meeting with UNICEF, the Child Care Board, the Superintendent of Prisons and [UNICEF child advocate] Faith Marshall-Harris, and we were trying to settle the policies to inform the new child protection legislation. We have been working with UNICEF and we [also] have a new Child Justice Bill,” he said.
Abrahams said Government was also working with UNICEF to “fast track” the drafting of the legislation.
“We are not reacting. A lot was already in train. Had the incident not occurred, we would have seen a transformation in short order to how we deal with children before entering the judicial system and after,” he said.
Explaining that the progress of the work was slowed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Minister Abrahams explained that the Child Justice Bill was just as important as the child protection legislation.
“The child protection legislation deals with all aspects of children. It deals with children in households; it deals with what age you can leave a child unattended; it deals with what constitutes abuse; it deals with the age of criminal responsibility; it is the whole thing…. It will be the most progressive piece of legislation once it has passed,” he said.
The Home Affairs Minister added that while government worked on the legislation, it was taking immediate steps to manage the situation involving the teenager and prevent a recurrence.
He announced that effective immediately, wards of the GIS would no longer be detained in isolation under circumstances less than acceptable.
Abrahams also announced a new Board of Management which will be tasked with reforming how the institution is run.
The new Board will be responsible for developing policies and programmes that reflect the philosophy that “children have rights and are a source to be nurtured”.
Minister Abrahams also disclosed that he would be meeting with the new Board this week to “impress upon them the need to work with UNICEF in reformatting…the emphasis and priorities of that institution”.
“I spoke to every single member of the new Board. I advised them that there is a lot that plagues the institution, and for us to move forward, we have to clear all of that. We have to regain the trust of Barbados which has been shaken by this incident,” he said, noting that the intention was to “strip the institution and rebuild it properly”.