Sometimes as a social commentator you struggle between being overly repetitive and drawing attention to points that have not yet passed in national discourse. I think, though, that revisiting issues is a good way to add in and refine points as things become clearer in one’s own head and for that reason I put the issue of children and how we treat children before you in this week’s offering.
I know that there are many that do not like to begin at the beginning when talking about Barbados. Beginning at the beginning is to begin with the trade of African people during slavery and many see that as creating strife or excuses. The truth is though, the trade of African people is the genesis for our national culture and it shapes views and opinions that we still hold today.
The treatment of children, their ownership and their agency are all bound up in our past. We come from a past where we did not have strong familial bonds with our children. Children were raised in the plantation yard and kept by slaves who could no longer work in the field. After emancipation, whereas children were seen as the next generation of workers for Massa, they were seen as a supply of labour for families.
Then we moved to the stage where children were beaten, threatened to learn and forced to go to church. There were laws to combat child labour but children were then seen as burdens. In many cases, fathers abandoned the responsibility and in some cases, mothers also did as they went overseas or tried in other ways to better the lot for themselves and their offspring.
Fast forward now to this year. Barbados is 31 years hence from the ratification of the Convention of the Rights of the Child. Yet I am amazed at how little our culture has changed with respect to how we view children. Not only has the view of children not changed at the individual level, but I think, in many ways, we have elements of institutional abuse against children.
I know that Minister Cynthia Forde has spoken about the need to reform institutions such as the Child Care Board, but while the grass is growing, the horse is starving. I think that the least we can do is start a national discourse that facilitates the shift in the view of children so that by the time legislation follows, there is real change.
What we also need to examine in Barbados is how we can put in place gatekeepers who, first believe in the rights of children and then are willing to stand in the defence of those rights. Key agencies such as the school, police force, social services and ministries should all be able to identify the rights of the child and how our system needs to work to protect those rights.
I want to believe that training will be enough to effect the change but frankly, I have to admit that age and accountability may be two more important factors in the treatment of children. Regardless of how much training they receive, there are some older people who do not seem able to move past their views of children which are conditioned by our past.
Until all of these individuals pass through the system, we have to ensure that there are accountability mechanisms in the name of transparency. These mechanisms will then work alongside legislative change and restructures when we finally get to that point. Creating such accountability measures is not a waste of time as they can become permanent features and not just ephemeral procedures.
We are creating crime and developing unstable adults due to the levels of dysfunction in Barbados. We are creating children who have to recover from their childhoods, instead of adults who can launch off from the solid base of their childhoods. The world has done much to stop that from occurring so we are also creating children at a disadvantage on the international stage. I hope that very soon we address this matter and that we can move beyond our traditional and historical views and approaches to children. A civilised society is measured by the treatment of its elderly and its young.
(Marsha Hinds is public relations officer of the National Organization of Women. Email: [email protected])