Former presiding magistrate in the District ‘A’ Juvenile Court, Barbara Cooke-Alleyne, is calling for modernization of the relevant legislation so that more severe sanctions can be imposed on parents found guilty of child negligence.
Cooke-Alleyne, now Registrar of the Supreme Court, referred to laws dating back to 1904, which were still on the statute books where a parent found guilty of harming, abusing, neglecting, abandoning or assaulting his or her child could be fined only $24 and $120 if the child died as a result.
“Those laws need to go,” she told Barbados TODAY in an interview. “We need to repeal that and come again.”
Speaking after a presentation to participants at the just concluded National Conference on Juvenile Justice, Cooke-Alleyne identified several things, which need to be done urgently if juvenile justice in Barbados is to meet its target of reform by next year.
Among those things she sees as critical, are easier acquisition of psychological and psychiatric reports which have to be done when a young person commits a crime and is brought before the courts. At present, these assessments can be done only at the Government Industrial School, which is the agency receiving funding for this.
While these assessments are taking place, the child is placed in custody. Cooke-Alleyne believes funding needs to be put in place “through another avenue” to facilitate these assessments without having to place all young persons in custody. “Not every child deserves to be there,” Cooke-Alleyne said, noting that the reports could take as long as six to eight weeks.
She lamented too that in some cases of wandering “where something is happening at home that is making the child leave” and the child is actually the victim, they had to undergo that same process. This then gives the young person “the impression that they are being victimized”, she said.
The former magistrate also pointed out that presently the Juvenile Court did not operate on a full-time basis and sits only one day a week. She sees the need for improvement here as well.
“What would be ideal”, she said, “is to have a centralized juvenile court” where the magistrate, prosecutor “and all the players would be specially trained” and this court would sit daily and deal with juveniles from throughout the island.
This would not only speed up juvenile matters but also free up other magistrates to continue working with adult cases, she explained.
Cooke-Alleyne also shared her views on the importance of parenting within the juvenile system.
“Some children fall to peer pressure and some have no checks and balances at home. Believe it or not, children need and they like discipline. They like to know what the boundaries are,” she said. “When parents fail in that regard, they are sending the child a message. Do this and nothing happens to you and that affects everything they do after that.”
Even though PAREDOS has been heavily utilized by the court system, Cooke-Alleyne expects that more funding will be needed to assist in training parents, if the proposed reform is to succeed.
“Good parenting skills are essential. It is not a natural thing to have those skills. The natural skill is feeding and sheltering a child. But when a child has done something wrong, what is the correct punishment, how far to go, how far not to go,” she said.