Progress is being made on transforming the structure and management of the island’s juvenile reformatory institution, new Chairperson Apostle Dr Lucille Baird has disclosed.
Apostle Baird said Thursday she hopes a preliminary report can be made public this year regarding the mandate of the new board of the state-run Government Industrial School (GIS) to develop policies and programmes that reflect the philosophy that children have rights and deserve to be nurtured.
The new eight-member board was appointed last month by Home Affairs Minister Wilfred Abrahams following a social media post that went viral of a 14-year-old girl at the institution who was reportedly photographed naked, a situation that sparked a public outcry with calls for an independent probe and for heads to roll.
But while Dr Baird, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Mount Zion’s Missions Incorporated Barbados, is hoping the country could be provided with initial outcomes from the review of the GIS this year, she cautioned that more comprehensive findings and recommendations will take a while considering the work which has to be done.
“I guess that that will take a while. I am making progress, but of course, it will take years to get to a certain point and therefore it is not going to happen overnight. We are looking at the new Child Justice Bill that will bring a lot of reform and a lot of rehabilitation to the wards/inmates of the facility,” she told Barbados TODAY.
Pressed on whether there is likely to be a preliminary report this year, the prominent church leader replied: “I am hoping so. I am hopeful it will be. I think that because this situation with the GIS has been publicly discussed and played out, I believe there will be a public report sometime down the road.”
Former Juvenile Court Magistrate Faith Marshall-Harris, who is an elected member of the global treaty body that regulates and polices the rights of the child, also Thursday reported progress on efforts to update the relevant legislation.
Marshall-Harris, who along with Dr Adrian Cummins has been retained by Government to help effect change at the reform school, told Barbados TODAY that transformation is on its way with respect to the law.
“We are working on the reform and they obviously will take place because we have the appropriate legislation being considered right now. As you know, nothing that you do is binding and mandatory unless it becomes law. You can have a lot of discussion and good intentions, but then you can’t enforce anything without the law,” the legal consultant declared.
“So that is what is on track right now to ensure that we have the modern legislation to back up everything that we do,” she added.
Marshall-Harris is however concerned that even though Barbados was one of the first countries in the world to ratify the Treaty on the Rights of the Child in 1990, it continues to flout its provisions.
“So it is particularly embarrassing for me that as a regulator right on my doorsteps, we are not complying. In fact, I suspect that there are very few countries in the world that are so way behind in terms of juvenile justice as Barbados is…which is a shocking thing. Most countries have updated their legislation in line with the minimum standards required,” said the member of the UN watchdog agency for child rights.
At the height of the public furore over the treatment of the teen girl at the GIS last month, Minister Abrahams announced sweeping changes at the institution during a press conference and promised: “we are going to strip the institution and rebuild that institution properly”.
“I would like to turn a new page and start a new chapter in the oversight and management of the Government Industrial School in Barbados,” he said, noting that the new thinking will be reflected in both the Child Protection legislation as well as the Child Justice Bill.