Government will seek to reform the laws governing how children in conflict with the law are dealt with through the introduction of a new Juvenile Justice Bill.
But while it will seek to introduce the new legislation to Parliament before year end, emphasis is being placed on its implementation to ensure that the rights of children are protected.
Minister of Home Affairs, Edmund Hinkson, recently underscored the need to modernize what he described as “outdated” legislation dating back to 1926 and 1930.
He raised these issues during a consultation on the Assessment of Legal Representation of Children at United Nations House and at a Youth Justice Conference.
Both events sought to highlight the importance of improving the way children are dealt with in the criminal justice system, while ensuring that their rights were protected.
Under a new bill, efforts will be made to ensure maximum benefits to children in terms of psychological assessments, spiritual and educational tuition.
“We are not only looking in terms of the reform of the justice system for youth, because this does not operate in a vacuum. We’re looking at all aspects of improving the lives of children in this country – the volunteerism aspect of it [and] reform of the educational curriculum.
“We’re looking, of course, at giving children greater opportunities and helping them realize their full potential as is their right as a citizen of Barbados,” Mr. Hinkson said, noting that this was also in keeping with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Those efforts include a reduction in the number of wards currently housed at the Government Industrial School. The Minister noted that seven juveniles were released last September, followed by an additional seven in early February.
“The last cohort of wards from the Government Industrial School have agreed to go into the YouthAdvanced Corps, which the Government of Barbados established in September last year,” he said.
He further noted that the programme would enable children to recognize their full potential, train and equip them in soft skills, life skills, and good habits such as teamwork, conflict resolution and anger management.
The Minister told participants at both events that the new bill would also make it mandatory for all children coming before the courts to have legal representation.
Lamenting a lack of this under the current system, Mr. Hinkson said: “We have to find the money. There is a Legal Aid Scheme and a Legal Aid Commission that were established in 1982,” he said.
He added that the mandatory confinement of children was also being addressed under the new bill, as it would take into account various issues which may cause children to rebel, such as mental health, and physical or sexual abuse in the home.
“We need to get in place new Child Care and Child Protection legislation…We have to modernize this,” Mr. Hinkson stressed.