Women in Action (WIA) network of organizations and individuals advocating for the closure of the Government Industrial School (GIS) Barrows facility and the reform of the juvenile justice system, emphatically rejects the suggestion made in an interviewed aired on the CBC Evening News on 16th May, 2022 that claims of physical, sexual and psychological abuse made by current and former wards of the Government Industrial School (GIS) are ‘simply rumours’.
WIA is saddened by the shameful attempt by the Barbados Government to marginalize the voices of the girls crying out for help by handpicking two former wards to glorify their incarceration and to justify the abusive environment in the GIS that has existed for the past thirty-two years. In choosing to promote only positive experiences while ignoring the trauma of other girls who are crying out for help, the authorities are indicating that they do not care about all of the girls, and this is unacceptable.
We are making our position clear, if one child is abused it is one child too many and should be of concern to every one of us. Ultimately a society is judged by how it treats its most vulnerable citizens. We expect that our children, though being reprimanded, be treated with dignity and afforded the opportunity to be rehabilitated. The two former wards interviewed are not cases that we are overly concerned about because by their recollection, they did not experience or witness any abuse.
It is however the first time we have heard a young woman who was incarcerated as a child recount the experience of being placed in a cell in solitary confinement with such smiles, laughter and gaiety, and yet with no mention of an activities that she enjoyed in passing the time incarcerated. The sentence of three to five years for wandering is so normalized that going from a three weeks sentence to a three year sentence was accepted in the adult mind of this young lady as fair and deserving. That is the impact of systemic abuse.
As a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Government’s handling of juveniles is governed by the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice and the UN Guidelines for the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency which provide that no child should be placed in solitary confinement. We are well aware that this International Convention has not been incorporated into domestic law and is therefore limited in its application in our domestic courts but that failure to follow through and commit ourselves to a standard of care for children speaks volumes about our Government’s true intentions for the nation’s children.
It is an insult to the intelligence of Barbadians and to our sense of dignity to attempt to drown out the cries of our youngest citizens calling for help. We recognize the desperate attempt to vindicate the Government by trivializing and ignoring the complaints of the abuse meted out at GIS. We stand firm in our position, the authorities will not make these girls and young women invisible, they will not be allowed to trivialize the pain, shame, nightmares and suffering that still plagues them.
Women in Action (WIA)