The UNICEF’s Children’s Champion and former juvenile court magistrate is recommending the establishment of half-way houses for delinquent adolescents in Barbados to replace the existing male and female correctional institutions.
Faith Marshall-Harris, who is also Chairman of the National Committee Monitoring the Rights of the Child, suggested today that the state-run Government Industrial School (GIS) in its present form has outlived its usefulness.
Speaking against the backdrop of a recent report that a girl at the institution who was placed naked in solitary confinement prompting Home Affairs Minister Wilfred Abrahams to launch an investigation into the apparent abuse, Marshall-Harris is adamant that comprehensive reform is urgently required.
She is also suggesting a re-engineering and a re-thinking of the entire operation of the correctional facilities.
“I happen to feel when it comes to adolescents, we should move, especially the girls, we should move more in the direction of half-way houses. The Government Industrial School as it presently stands and is presently set up, clearly doesn’t seem to be fitting the bill and probably we need to have a rethink,” the legal consultant whose list of publications include the Mandatory Reporting Protocol for Child Abuse told Barbados TODAY.
Marshall-Harris stated that several months ago, she wrote to Minister Abrahams calling for an inspection at the school amidst ongoing allegations and complaints of child abuse and breaches of the rights of the wards.
The UNICEF Children’s Champion said her efforts to have effective measures taken to address the state of affairs at the GIS go back as far as during the stewardship of the former Democratic Labour Party Administration.
“In 2015 I was trying to get a thorough inspection done and an investigation carried out where it had emerged and it had been alleged that abuses were occurring. Unfortunately, it went nowhere,” she said.
Marshall-Harris added: ”And I heard nothing further, other than the officers who came and attempted to highlight the problem.
“It went to a situation where people became afraid to say anything. Since then, some months ago, I wrote to the now Minister of Home Affairs pointing out that again allegations of abuse were being made and I was saying the matter really needs to be looked into…and asked for an inspection,” the former legal consultant to the Government declared.
She argued that the persons like herself who have been asking for inspections are on solid ground.
“In the sense that we are signatories too and we have ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other UN conventions which require that persons who are deprived of their liberty, children included, have certain important rights,” she noted.
The former juvenile court magistrate explained that under Article 40 of the Convention there are guidelines and rules developing and that up to last year, the treaty body of which she is a member, issued a general comment on how juveniles deprived of their liberty should be treated.
“Now all of them, without exception say that no child should be subjected to solitary confinement. It also says, and this is where the inspections come in, that any such facility which deprives a child of their freedom should be regularly inspected by independent persons autonomously at their own initiative; and such inquiry should be unannounced to ensure that no abuse can occur,” Marshall-Harris told Barbados TODAY.
The attorney-at-law pointed out however, that the same rules stipulate that such deprivation should only be done as a last resort and for the shortest possible time.
“We should seek to use alternative measures which have been proven more effective in treating to juveniles who are perceived to have breached the law. Those alternative measures include probation, care and supervision orders, counselling, diversion [diverting them away from the justice system],” she said.
The UNICEF Children’s Champion is contending that Barbados has failed in that area.
“We are not doing that. We have fallen from that standard. Those are what you call minimum standards for dealing with juveniles deprived of their liberty,” Marshall-Harris added.
The former legal consultant to the Barbados Government on child issues also stated that while some of the finger-pointing of abuse and deprivation of rights must be treated as allegations until proven otherwise, she has evidence of their existence in certain areas at the correctional facility.
“The reason I am speaking out is that I am aware that one or two of the allegations have proven to my satisfaction to be true,” she contended.
However, Marshall-Harris said she preferred not to share the details in public, but would rather allow the promised investigation to uncover whatever truth there is.
She told Barbados TODAY while she has not been asked to be part of the probe into the abuse claims at the correctional facility, she had been requesting such action and would continue to do so.
In the meantime, Marshall-Harris, is questioning whether staff at the juvenile institution are acquainted with the rules on the rights of the child.
“I don’t want to say they aren’t, but some of the allegations made, I wonder if they are aware of the guidelines which are very specific and exhaustive. They include that insisting that children should be allowed to have contact with legal representatives on a regular basis if they so require…they should be able to have a mechanism, access to a facility where they can complain if anything goes wrong with them and they should not be punished for complaining,” declared the child advocate.
She noted that the accusations which are now surfacing are nothing new. According to her children who have been discharged from the facility have been leveling them for years and no one is believing them.
“One of the claims they make is that they are aware that donations of food and toiletries and devices are made to the school by concerned individuals and they don’t get them.
“They also allege that favoured girls may have access but they don’t know what becomes of those commodities,” Marshall-Harris said.