Declaring that she is not surprised with the findings of the departmental inquiry into the operations of the Government Industrial School (GIS), child rights advocate Shelly Ross says Minister of Home Affairs and Information Wilfred Abrahams should be sacked immediately.
Additionally, Ross called for the removal of the present board and administration at the GIS, and accused the stakeholders of turning a blind eye to glaring issues of alleged child abuse.
“In April this year, Minister Abrahams stated that he had a thorough investigation done by the new board that he appointed and that was headed by Rev Lucille Baird and they found no wrongdoings and no abuse by staff at the GIS,” she said.
Ross added that five months later the new findings suggested that there was either an earlier cover-up by someone or someone was lying about what was going on at GIS.
On Monday, during a press conference at the Ministry of Home Affairs and Information, a four-member panel that carried out the three-month inquiry recommended a major overhaul of the juvenile detention centre which has been plagued with issues for many years and has been at the centre of public scrutiny. Chairman of the investigating panel, Oral Williams, revealed that several issues have been identified, which point to the need to hire more competent staff, an upgrade of the facilities, and a possible change of the institution’s name.
Meanwhile, in response to the findings, Minister Abrahams gave the assurance that all the evidence taken by the panel would be made available to the Commissioner of Police, and noted that anything that indicated criminal happenings or warranted a more thorough investigation by the office of the Commissioner, would be brought to his attention.
However, Ross recalled that in 2016, she referred to GIS as a hell hole, after speaking to former wards and parents of wards at the institution. Concerned that wards appeared to be leaving the institution worse than they entered, at that time, Ross openly stated there was little or no reform happening at the GIS. She also aired concerns about the lack of adequate education and remedial opportunities there.
“So this report and investigation has revealed nothing new and certainly nothing that was not spoken about over the last couple of years and on many occasions. Going forward, no new building would make a difference if you have people cliquing and abusing children while standing in the way of the best interest of the children,” she said.
The advocate said that as far she is concerned, there is the need for someone who cares about the children of Barbados and who understands the rights of children, and would stand against child abuse, to deal with matters concerning this vulnerable group in society.
Ross added: “I am also concerned about the frivolous reason given for the lack of a revised Child Justice Bill. To utter statements that it was not pushed because it deals with children once they come into the system and it would send the wrong message, is simply nonsense. He [Abrahams] has failed on that matter as well”. (AH)