By Jenique Belgrave
Former Opposition Leader Bishop Joseph Atherley has added his voice to those expressing concern about several aspects of the Child Protection Bill.
He urged caution as he made specific reference to the power given to the proposed Child Protection Authority to remove a child from a home, either temporarily or permanently.
“I am not sure I support the intended practice of removing a child from home without some sort of court order. Such action could easily result from highly subjective thinking or misinformation. What we need to do is to make sure that the court order system or protection mechanisms function such that they can quickly respond to the urgent demand for action,” he said.
The veteran politician also contended that the legislation did not take Barbadian culture into context, but was instead firmly based on international foundations.
“I am disappointed that the proposed legislation is rooted singularly in a desire to be compliant with several United Nations related frameworks, but no mention of any such rooting of the bill in any Barbadian constitutional or cultural foundation,” he told Barbados TODAY on Friday.
Atherley, who recently returned to Barbados from overseas, also noted that lawmakers must take into consideration social and economic factors that can influence a parent’s action regarding a child.
“The country must address from an economic policy perspective, the factors which cause parents, especially single mothers, to leave their children unattended. Government also needs to recognise and address the issue of lack of access to proper housing which, in many instances, creates a context and circumstance constituting a negative environment which, in itself, creates vulnerability and threat to child well-being,” he stated.
Supporting the stipulations in the bill relative to mandatory reporting by duty bearers and caregivers such as medical practitioners, teachers and law enforcement officers, the veteran politician suggested that the list of professionals should also include religious leaders.
Agreeing with the need for child protection legislation to be modernised and updated, he underlined that the effort “must unavoidably and unquestionably improve the institutional architecture relating to such protective services, enhance beyond doubt the guaranteed rights of children, and safeguard parental authority”.
Atherley also noted that the institutional apparatus must be structured to reflect that there cannot be a “one solution fits all” approach to the myriad problems associated with or posed by child deviance or arising from deficient parental or authority-figure conduct.
He insisted that the courts must have various options to handle such matters.
Atherley’s concerns join the list of issues highlighted in recent weeks about the bill which is now before a select committee of Parliament.
On Saturday, the Watch Out My Children group will host a march from Kensington Car Park to Independence Square to highlight the unease of parents and stakeholders about the proposed legislation.