A few days ago, sports legend, Serena Williams, opened up a discussion about the financial side of domestic abuse. I think it is an important discussion to have because this is one type of abuse that is rampant but which we are still not providing appropriate redress for.
It is one type of abuse that is pervasive both as domestic violence and intimate partner violence. In the domestic presentation, a sibling may be disinherited by other siblings or by parents. This includes not giving family members items left for them by relatives or causing duress to a person in the pursuit of those rightful gifts. It also includes elderly people and the infirmed being manipulated or disadvantaged out of property, pensions and other monies.
There are some estates that drag on for years and years in Barbados with no resolution about matters of property or other assets. In many cases, those disinherited are not in a financial position to be able to fight to gain their interest. This type of abuse is so pervasive in Barbados that I believe in cases where individuals have been disinherited due to dishonesty, there should be a provision of legal aid.
It need not be completely free, but an advance system where lawyers can be paid upfront by Legal Aid with payment plans or liens against the interests to be gained. In the context of the comments by the Attorney General about the backlog of cases in the magistracy, it would also be of interest to research how many of the land and property cases filed have to do with disputes between families over inheritances. I suggest that if such checks are done, it would paint a picture of the pervasiveness of financial abuse in Barbados.
Financial abuse as a type of intimate partner violence is also rife in Barbados. There are some usual happenstances that we do not even identify. When a couple breaks up and the visiting or non-custodial parent refuses to pay regular maintenance with respect to their children, this is a basic form of financial abuse. It leaves the custodial parent with an unequal burden to ensure that the needs of the child are met.
While withholding maintenance can affect men in cases where men retain custodial parentage after a break-up, historically, this type of abuse affects women disproportionately because they often become the custodial parents in a break-up. Men then use the payment of maintenance to control the woman remotely, as it were.
There are several women in Barbados who report having to do sexual favours, housework or other tasks for non-custodial parents in order to get child maintenance. When men are placed before the court, many of them simply refuse to pay maintenance. The administration of the system enables them to get away with having large sums owing without measures being taken.
I am not in favour of the measure being imprisonment. I believe that men who lag in paying maintenance should have their amounts paid by the government. The government should then be the one to go after recouping the monies they paid with respect to the child. This system works in places such as Australia. I know some people will say that men genuinely do not have the money to pay but in many cases women genuinely cannot afford the upkeep of the child on their own either. Generational poverty and the attendant issues are fostered when women are left in this kind of situation.
Our system is not very effective now in dealing with and providing remedies for financial abuse. In my view, it is an area that needs to be more closely examined as we seek to create a better social position for all Barbadians to live their best lives. If we start to think about wealth creation in Barbados, then finding solutions to financial abuse as domestic violence must be a serious concern.
Marsha Hinds is the President of the National Organisation of Women.