Concerned about the current incidence of child abuse in Barbados, Queen’s Counsel Beverley Walrond today called for stiffer penalties for those who violate the country’s child protection laws.
Addressing an Ethical Guidelines for Reporting on Children workshop at the Accra Beach Resort, Walrond pointed out that under the Prevention of Cruelty to Children Act, the current penalty was $120 or one-year imprisonment, which she said was simply not prohibitive.
“That law needs some amending in the sense that it needs to be updated because the penalty for breaking that law ends up being $120. So we need to upgrade some of our laws,” she said with child protection authorities reporting an average of 1,000 child abuse cases over the past five years.
While stating that the Act was still useful as it allows for a child who is affected by cruelty to be removed from the home by a police officer and taken to the Child Care Board, she emphasized that “$120 or some short period of time [in prison] is quite inadequate and needs to be looked at”.
Walrond said another area of concern was that often when a child was removed from an abusive environment, a determination was made that prosecuting the parent was “not the way to go”.
“Sometimes it is that the parent is mental, sometimes the parent happens to be wandering, sometimes they are on drugs. The truth of the matter is what do you do with the parent? That is the other side,” she explained.
While stating that the CCB had a responsibility to determine what was in the child’s best interest, Walrond pointed out that the Act also provides for a child under the age of 16 to voluntarily leave the abuse home and seek refuge at the CCB.
“I don’t think most people know that,” she said, while recalling that some years ago she had interacted with some girls at the Government Industrial School who were there because they were “simply trying to get away from a situation in which the mother’s boyfriend wanted sexual favours and, telling the mother, the mother did nothing about it”.
“They need to know that they can go into the Child Care Board and seek refuge and they will be taken into care by the Board as long as you are under 16,” the senior attorney advised.
She also pointed out that there were other pieces of legislation protecting children in various circumstances, including the Offences Against the Persons Act, the Sexual Offences Act and the Protection of Children Act which specifically deals with child pornography and makes it an offence to have or publish an indecent photograph of a child.
Given those provisions, Walrond said she was surprised that many people were still sharing inappropriate videos and pictures of children without reprimand.
“This Act really needs to be given greater attention than it now receives because we cannot be oblivious to the fact that school children are photographing other children in sexual acts and that those photographs taken by these cellphones have gone viral,” she said.
“The point is I am not sure the public has enough information on this particular law. This is the law under which the Nation newspaper or some persons working at the Nation newspaper were prosecuted and put before the courts because of a particular story,” she said, in reference to an October 2013 back page article, which showed a still shot of a video of two students from a rural secondary school apparently engaging in sexual activity.
This resulted in the then Publisher Vivian-Anne Gittens, Editor-In-Chief Roy Morris and Saturday Sun editor Sanka Price being hauled before the courts. However, the case was eventually dismissed.