Authorities are being urged to not only reform the laws that govern how girls and boys who are reported missing are treated when they return home, but to go after the adults who encourage them to stay away.
The call has come from outgoing president of Soroptimist International of Barbados, Tammy Bryan, against the recent, perceived increase in the number of girls reported missing by police.
“When a juvenile leaves home and they are reported missing to the police, once they are found, the youth is usually charged with wandering, [under the Reformatory and Industrial School Act, 1926]. The child is committed to the Government Industrial School [at Dodds St. Philip or Barrows, St. Lucy] for a mandatory period of three years. There is some provision whereby some of the juveniles are released earlier than that. We [Soroptimists] have been advocating for reform of this legislations for some years now,” she said.
“We have met with successive Attorneys General, including the current [Adriel Brathwaite] and we were asked to make submissions to him in relation to the amendments that we saw that were necessary and we did so a few years ago but nothing has happened so far.”
Outlining some of those recommendation that had been put forward, she pointed to the issue of housing arrangements for the wards, stating that most of the persons coming into the Government Industrial School, were “not criminal”, having not committed any offences against the society for which they have been incarcerated.
“But the legislation allows for the Government to remove juveniles from dangerous situations. So, for example, if a child is residing in a home where there is a convicted sexual offender, or there are other unsavoury circumstances in the home, that child can be removed. Unfortunately, the only place that the child can be held is the Government Industrial School. [That] is where actual juvenile offenders are also housed and there is a mixing of the two groups.
Bryan said this was not in the best interest of a minor who has been removed from at risk or dangerous circumstances.
“We are, first of all, saying that the juvenile offender and the child who are removed from the dangerous circumstances should not be housed in the same accommodation. We should not have mixing because there are different circumstances at play in those situations,” she said.
“ . . . I am [also] not sure that when the girls are found that anyone does any investigations into the circumstance that may have led to that girl actually leaving her home. Our experience has been that very often the girls are running away from an undesirable situation. Sometimes it is a situation where the mother’s new boyfriend desires some sort of sexual payment from this juvenile and the mother may very well say to the juvenile that ‘the rent has to be paid this week so do what you have to do’. The mother makes her minor child available to the man. This is reality.”
Bryan, who is also an attorney-at-law practicing family law, told Barbados TODAY that she would like to see some changes as far as the stigma attached to the problem is concerned.
“The reality is that there are people who will automatically say the girl is wayward and disgusting and she just left because she wanted to be with her man. Now, no child is born wayward and disgusting. We are all products of our circumstances and I believe at that at the core of it, every child needs love and attention . . . . If a child is not getting that at home, it will look elsewhere. If the person providing that unfortunately is an older man who can provide accommodation the girl will gravitate towards that,” she contended.
“What has not happened though, is that we have not seen any of these older persons being dealt with by the authorities. If, in fact, the girls are going to the homes of older men, then that has to be dealt with as well. It is not just the girls, because there is an individual who is allowing the girl to come into their home. How are the authorities dealing with that particular person?” she questioned. (RG)