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by Marsha Hinds
A few weeks ago, we awoke to the tragedy of a lawyer and her family being affected by violence in Barbados. Even as reminders about the lawyer’s former client relationships resurfaced, in under mere hours of the tragedy, we had a statement from the Prime Minister of Barbados expressing regret at what had happened to her fraternal sister and offering condolences to her family.
The next time then, that an act of violence affected another woman in Barbados and that act became widespread public knowledge, I expected the first female Prime Minister of Barbados to return to her people with an appropriate statement. I expected it if for no other reason than to make sure that the public relations optics were right.
For one, it would dispel the myth that lawyers get some kind of special treatment in Barbados and additionally, it would gain our Prime Minister a place among the progressive female world leaders who are taking a hard stand against all forms of violence against women.
Bu there has been a deafening public silence. Even as those of us who could stomach the video, in wide circulation on social media, connected the dots between the gunshots that killed the second set of young Barbadian men in weeks, the holes in our juvenile justice system as exemplified by the Government Industrial School and the family instability and childhood abuse and trauma that act as catalyst for dysfunction.
As we have done so many times before, with the result being piecemeal and ill-suited remedies, we are approaching deeply interrelated issues as separate phenomenon. Our society is becoming more violent because our family structures are problematic and that is a historical and social legacy of the plantation.
To equate the troubled Barbadian family with brokenness or single parent status is far too simplistic. The real dysfunction is the high levels of domestic violence in households, including intimate partner violence as a form of domestic violence, the high levels of physical abuse and sexual abuse.
There are unaddressed issues with substance abuse in many households across the Island and unaddressed mental wellness and illness concerns.
Several families also live either too close to poverty or in poverty because financial abuse is a pervasive experience for women and children upon dissolution of a union. Women rights activists for the longest time have been pointing to the fact that family abuse is not just a problem that affects women, it affects children as well.
The amendments to the Domestic Violence Protection Orders Act, CAP 130A make any kind of abuse perpetrated in a domestic setting and in the presence of a child, child abuse and a punishable offence. In the years after this provision was made in the law, I have never seen anyone prosecuted or even lose parental rights under this section.
The courts of Barbados seemingly operate on the principle that ‘a piecea father is better than no father at all’. Thus, when women seek protection orders in court, the court will sometimes breach the very order it made in an attempt to ensure that perpetrators still have access to their children.
The perpetrator is not usually required to complete any kind of training or rehabilitation of his behaviour.
The courts tell victims that they are not concerned with the violence between the man and the woman – usually people expected to co-parent together.
Children grow up in cycles of abuse with abusive parents in charge of their care. The cycles of abuse lead to other forms of abuse in childhood, low or no school performance, conduct disorders and higher possibilities for childhood and teenaged deviancy and interaction or conflict with the law.
These children are then criminalized or ignored. The ones who come to the attention of authorities will usually end up being sent to the Government Industrial School (GIS). They face further emotional and other types of abuse.
This is not a secret because as much as stories have varied about what happens or does not happen at the Government Industrial School, the Minister has conceded that the institution is not ‘perfect’ and they are archaic aspects to the operations.
One of the biggest issues is that the traumas that the children face inside the GIS system are never addressed. There is no interaction with their family units to ensure that upon their release they go back to stronger environments.
These children and those ignored in homes with weak support structures, usually in communities with equally weak support structures and ‘gun men’ are born. We once did a survey on the levels of literacy in the prison system in Barbados. This metric is an important indicator to understanding crime.
Notwithstanding another very important metric is the levels of trauma and abuse inmates of our penal system have faced. The profiles of the children at GIS are predictor and rather than blame working class mothers as an easy whipping horse for how their children ‘turn out’, let us accept that the issue is a complicated one.
For a child to live in a single parent family there are a number of factors that could have caused that. A mother may have opted to leave an abusive partner.
There may have been a death of a parent, or a man may have decided to leave and never looks back. Whatever the reason is, there need to be social safety nets for single mothers with children and more of a willingness in our society to make men responsible financially for their children.
If we are following the crime trends in Barbados, we would realize that young men across class strata have been falling victim mainly to the gun.
Abuse is not only pervasive in single female headed households. There are two parent families in Barbados with profiles of violence and other types of instability.
Marsha Hinds is a practising women and girls’ advocate in Barbados and a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Guelph.