Barbados could soon see a major change to its law on wandering that will see it removed from the Statute Books and with it any penalty of incarceration for young boys and girls who “run away”.
In fact, Minister responsible for People Empowerment and Elder Affairs Cynthia Forde believes there is a case to be made for “throwing out” the law altogether. She said it is time a modern Barbados takes on the law which can see young people confined for straying from their homes.
“I always felt that wandering was a very strange thing because the way in which we speak to it in the past and I believe that the statute books need to be upgraded again,” Minister Forde noted.
In fact, Deputy Chairman of the Government Industrial School Marsha Hinds the Bill is already in draft.
“We would have met in consultation recently to look at the juvenile reform process because we know that we are dealing with laws that are outdated. One of them is from 1926 I think, and the other is from 1923. As a part of that reformation process, wandering will no longer be considered as an offence that carries a period of incarceration. The Minister is well on track to deal with that issue,” Hinds earlier told Barbados TODAY.
Minister Forde noted “We have a lot of young girls and boys who would get up and leave the households they are in and they would not leave the households because they would wish to. They leave the households because they want freedom from an abused environment, whether it be from flogging, sexual or being deprived of meals or so on,” Forde said.
The former teacher noted that when she was active in the classroom, she realized that many of the youth that run away are seeking refuge from a violent situation that sometimes is caused by their family members.
“I have dealt with some who would have actually gone to Summerville (Girls’ Industrial School). When I looked at the evidence these incidents were as a result of parents and guardians and other caregivers who did not pursue aspects of complaints because no one listens to the children or thought that they were telling lies and some of them were ‘unfaired’ in that respect,” she told Barbados TODAY.
The minister noted that the wandering law should be amended or thrown out altogether. However, she warned that parents needed to believe their child or ward when he or she reports abuse.
“They are too many parents and guardians who do not listen the stories of their children and that is what leads to them not having the voice to say that ‘I am being molested’, ‘I have been touched’, ‘I have been beaten’ and so on.
Pointing to the issue of deprivation, Minister Forde said this is a real issue for young people and it is not taking away the opportunity to attend a fete.
“The deprivation that I am referring to is that the opportunity to get a proper meal and to go to school as I would like because they are keeping me home to babysit the siblings when I am 13 and 14 years old and I should be going to school. I am playing the role of mother and I have wandered away from home and then they put these children in an institution,” Forde told Barbados TODAY, adding that the law needs to be upgraded so that persons who prey on young children are brought before the law courts.
“I think that [it] needs to be properly investigated and upgraded legally so that more of our children get an opportunity to get counselling and access to other persons who would help to nurture them and give them another way of dealing with the issues in the home.”
Her comments came less than a week after Hinds confirmed that a meeting was held with the Minister of Home Affairs and UNICEF to take wandering off the Statute Book in Barbados. She said a bill had been drafted to ensure that Barbados is one of the last jurisdictions that has wandering on the Statute Books.