Reforming Juvenile Laws In Barbados

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Did you know that children with sponsor sheets asking for money in supermarket car parks are considered to be begging for money, are committing a crime, and can be charged?

Similarly, that an orphan child; one who is desolate because the parent is in prison; one who is found living in circumstances that can lead to prostitution; or one found wandering, can be placed at the Government Industrial School (GIS)?

Laws relating to these status offences (an offence for which only a child can be charged) and other offences are now under review as Barbados seeks to reform its juvenile justice legislation.??The island is currently governed by the Reformatory and Industrial Schools Act, of 1926, and the Juvenile Offenders Act of 1932, for matters relating to children.

???These ancient acts that were allowable back in the 1920s and 30s are no longer possible today. We need to look at ways of taking these things out of the books and finding other ways of dealing with our young people who are doing these activities,??? said Registrar of the Supreme Court of Barbados, Barbara Cooke-Alleyne.

With wandering identified as being one of the most common offences for which children are sent to the GIS, the Registrar stated that it was not a child???s fault every time it wandered.

???By punishing that child instead of finding out what is happening in that household, we are sending that child a certain message. Yes some do leave home willingly to go off to do activities, but some are running from certain behaviours,??? she said, stressing that was why the legislation needed to be reformed.

Mrs. Cooke-Alleyne, a former magistrate with the Juvenile Court, also lamented the fact that children were given stiffer penalties than adults for committing similar offences.

???For instance, if a persistent shoplifter as an adult came before the court, we would likely give them imprisonment perhaps six months to one year. [But] if a child is persistently shoplifting and they come to the court on a third [occasion], our only option would be to send them to prison for the three to five years,??? she said, noting that was time stipulated by the existing legislation.

Stating that the legislation placed magistrates in a bind, the Registrar said there were cases where children needed the period of imprisonment because of the society in which they were living, their environment, as well as their home structure.

But, she stressed, this did not apply to all circumstances, as there were some children who only needed a ???short stint??? to remind them of how to behave.??Meanwhile, policymakers will also be seeking to review the age categories of children under the Juvenile Offenders Act, so that the definition of a child could be recognised across the board.

At present, in criminal law a child is between the ages of 11 and 14 and a young person between the ages of 14 and 16. The age of criminal responsibility is 11, but a child under the age of 14 cannot be imprisoned. However, a boy can be charged for rape from the age of 12.

The next category is that of the 14 and 15-year-olds, while children 16 years of age may be sent to Her Majesty???s Prisons Dodds.?????You are deemed adults in criminal law at age 16, and this causes some concern as well,??? Mrs. Cooke-Alleyne pointed out.

She added that children who committed an offence at this age could be remanded to the adult prison, but must be kept separate from adult inmates.??However, she stressed that consideration was being given to expanding the age to recognise that persons between the ages of 16 and 18 should be considered as juveniles and be dealt with differently.

???We need to look at all these things to bring the law in place so we can see a juvenile as being a person from 11 to 18, recognising that this would have a certain impact on us resources-wise,??? the Registrar explained.

However, she noted that Barbados reformed some of its laws when it signed on to the Convention of the Rights of the Child. One such change was increasing the age of criminal responsibility from seven to 11. In addition, the country has also made it law that no child who committed murder could receive the capital punishment.

???There is a lot more that needs to be done to get on par with the Convention of the Rights of the Child. That Convention also proposes that the age of criminal responsibility be a lot older than what we have it at, so perhaps we may look at increasing it from 11 to a much older age,??? Mrs. Cooke-Alleyne added.

julia.rawlins-bentham@barbados.gov.bb

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