Wandering will no longer be a criminal offence in Barbados and the reporting of child abuse cases will become mandatory when the Child Protection Bill becomes law.
Minister of People Empowerment and Elder Affairs, Kirk Humphrey made this announcement on Wednesday as he also revealed that the final draft of the legislation, which he described as the most highly representative legislation to protect the rights of children in the entire region and arguably one of the strongest in the world, will go before Cabinet next week.
Speaking at the opening of the first meeting of the National Committee for Monitoring the Rights of the Child, at his Ministry’s Office, Warrens Office Complex, St Michael, Humphrey also indicated that drafting of the Child Justice Bill was also at an advanced stage.
He said that while Barbadians are usually afraid to report child abuse, they will have no choice but to do so once the Child Protection Act takes effect, as it speaks to family members and professionals, including healthcare workers, informing authorities about suspected cases.
“And we believe that is going to be a game changer. Of course, this is going to require conversation with the police and the nurses and the doctors and so on, to ensure that they understand where it is that we are going with this legislation.
“It also has certain built-in protection for persons who may report in good faith and then it is proven that is not the case, which is to protect the persons who come forward with the information. I am very pleased with that particular piece of the legislation,” the Minister said.
The proposed legislation will also address the issue of wandering, which is a child between the ages of 11 and 15 being somewhere without permission.
Humphrey explained that children who wander are currently dealt with through the child justice system, even though they may be running from an abusive home or other threatening situations.
“It is no longer going to be a criminal offence. But within the child protection legislation we recognise that there might be a case where the person might need care and protection and, therefore, those persons would be taken care of now under the new agency responsible for child protection,” Humphrey said.
He added: “Currently you might have children solely in need of care and protection; the Child Justice Bill may speak to persons who are in need of the other arm of the law in relation to child justice.
“But then there might be some people who are too tough, to put it very casually, for child care, but yet because of their circumstances, you don’t want to introduce them to the justice system. It [the Child Protection Bill] speaks to having to create an institutional and administrative arrangement for persons in the middle to be able to make sure that we address all components relating to children.”
Barbadian jurist and children’s rights advocate Faith Marshall-Harris, added that one of the groundbreaking aspects of the legislation is that it incorporates the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Noting that there has never been any direct reference to the convention in legislation, Marshall-Harris, who assisted in drafting the Bill, said she was pleased with the development.
“All international agreements that are relevant are the basis for this legislation, which is another significant milestone. And let me state that I have been involved with it very enthusiastically and because I look at the legislation of a lot of countries around the world, I can tell you that this legislation is going to be one of the best. I have read all of them and tried to bring in as much as I could from other countries that was desirable,” she said.