There are attempts to confuse Barbadians on the contents of the Child Protection Bill (2023). First the facts.
Fact 1: The Child Protection Bill (2023) is designed to punish anyone who abuses children.
Fact 2: The Bill punishes parents, teachers, pastors and anyone who abuses children by making them liable for: (i) fines of $100,000, (ii) imprisonment for 10 years, and (iii) removal of the children if the abuser is a parent.
Every person who cares about children is reasonably expected to support this Bill – and I did. How could anyone morally not support it? How could anyone side with abusers of children – especially if you are a parent? In piloting the Bill through Parliament, the Minister went on an emotional rant and wanted the fine to be one million dollars – his heart seemed to be in the right place.
I read the Bill because I try to read all Bills that the Government plans to pass – as a service to the public. I found that the Bill: (i) punishes anyone who abuses children, and (ii) defines abuse to include sexual abuse on the Internet. I agree with both measures. So, why not just pass it already as many of our social commentators have insisted? Because that would be irresponsibly reckless – it is better to do a critical review first.
The problem with the Bill is that there are provisions hidden throughout the Bill that make all parents, teachers, and others who care for children guilty of abuse – and liable for severe fines and imprisonments. This is done by expanding the definition of abuse to include normal responsible actions of caring parents, teachers and caregivers.
Some parents want to include spanking as a tool for disciplining unruly children. Some teachers may need to resort to raising their voice to maintain control of unruly students. The Bill as drafted will turn those parents and teachers into criminals – so I wrote and marched against it.
THE NEW ABUSERS
The definitions of abuse are included in Section 2. Some of the more concerning ones follow.
Emotional abuse includes the use of threatening words or behaviour. Therefore, parents and teachers who threaten unruly children with sanctions are to be the new abusers.
Physical abuse includes any act which causes pain to the body of a child. Therefore, parents who spank their unruly children are to be the new abusers.
Verbal abuse includes the use of negative language or communication to manipulate or control another person, which can be communicated by silence or shouting. Some parents and teachers try to control unruly children by speaking loudly to them. If they are not perfect in their speech, or non-speech, they are to be the new abusers.
THE NEW PENALTIES
Some of the criminal penalties for the new abusers follow.
A person who does not report abuse is guilty, and liable to a fine of $20 000 or imprisonment for 2 years or both. (Section 21.7)
A person who intimidates the Director as he takes away her children is guilty, and liable to a fine of $10 000 or imprisonment of one year or both. (Section 28.9). Why not define intimidation so that parents may know where the line is?
A person who obstructs or threatens the Director or his staff as they take away her children is guilty, and liable to a fine of $25 000 or imprisonment for 5 years or both. (Section 63) How do we expect responsible parents to react while their children are being dragged away? Why lock responsible parents up for 5 years for simply trying to protect their children from the Director.
THOU SHALL NOT FRIGHTEN
A person who imposes corporal punishment or severe or frightening measures on a child placed in a child care centre is guilty and liable to a fine of $10 000 or imprisonment for 2 years or both. (Section 59.1) Severe and frightening measures should be defined so that workers in child care facilities know where the line is.
A person who abuses a child, exposes a child to abuse, or fails to protect a child from abuse is guilty, and liable to a fine of $100 000 or imprisonment for 10 years or both. (Section 61) This would be fine if the definition of abuse was not so widely defined to include normal responsible parenting actions.
THE WAY FORWARD
I believe that our elected representatives who supported this Bill were well meaning. But this attempt to criminalise so many responsible Barbadians for doing what is in the best interest of their children, should be a wakeup call for them to critically review all legislation that they are told to support.
There appear to be two explanations for the offensive Bill. One is that it was so poorly written that the criminalisation of parents and teachers was a coincidence of incompetence. That seems unlikely given their public defence that the Bill clearly states its intentions. The other explanation is more troubling.
The drafters may genuinely view parents who spank their children as abusive irredeemable criminals – perhaps based on their own childhood experiences of genuine abuse. Rather than engage in an evidence-based discussion with those with whom they disagree, they are trying to use the Laws of Barbados to bankrupt and imprison them. I invite those who support the Bill as drafted to offer an alternative explanation of the evidence.