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One law

Faith Marshall-Harris

Faith Marshall-Harris

Barbados’ harmonisation of laws relating to children and families is one step closer to reality.

That because a draft of the “Review Analysis and Harmonisation of the Laws relating to Children and their Families” is expected to be submitted to the Ministry of Family, Culture, Sports and Youth this month.

News of this has come from attorney-at-law and legal consultant Faith Marshall-Harris, who has been retained to guide the reform process. She further disclosed that a draft green paper would be completed in March and the document would be shared with the public at upcoming town hall meetings.

“I have looked at all the laws I have found so far which have relevance in this area and I have consulted with a number of the stakeholders who would be involved in the review,” she explained.

Marshall-Harris pointed out that she had examined 30-odd pieces of legislation.

“The reason one has to look at that large number of laws is because as you deal with one area you recognise that there is some other enactment that may have an impact on what you are proposing.

“So, for example, a piece of legislation you would not immediately think of in terms of children and their families would be the Vital Statistics Registration Act. But, you have to look at that because it deals with registration of births of children.

“So, there are a number of areas you have to keep looking at to see how they interact with each other because there is a patchwork of laws that deal with children and family in Barbados. We have not got any single enactment that you can look to,” she said.

Having looked at those laws, Marshall-Harris is of the view that Barbados would be better served if there was at least one omnibus act.

“What I am proposing is that we have one law to deal with all children and all families… I am trying to pull these all together in a single enactment,” she disclosed.

She said the Maintenance Act was one of the first pieces of legislation examined and she described it as “the most flawed” and “highly discriminatory”.

“This act provides that a single woman may apply to the court to get maintenance for her child. And, what is flawed about that?

The fact that it says a “single woman” and it does not address the fact that there are single men who look after their children. The Maintenance Act implicitly discriminates and suggests that we treat these children differently because they are not born into a marriage or a union other than marriage,” she opined.

She explained, however, that matters involving children born into a marriage or union were dealt with under the Family Law Act.

“We want to stop that separation because it is actually in contravention with our own Status of Children Reform Act, which says that there should be no distinction between a child born in a marriage and one born outside of marriage,” she declared.

Marshall-Harris added that the Maintenance Act also contravened the Convention on the Rights of the Child which Barbados has been a signatory to for several years. It stipulates that there should be no discrimination of children based on their birth status, gender or race.

The consultant maintained that this reform is timely and urged Barbadians to attend the upcoming town hall meetings to discuss the draft green paper on children and family law reform.

She said: “One of the important new concepts I am hoping to recommend is that our law should address what is called ‘social parenting’. Our laws need to give effect to the fact that so many children are raised by a mother and a stepfather or they are raised in situations where there is no father present, but mother, grandmother, aunts or uncles are their virtual parents. I believe we should recognise those variables in this law.

“The proposals are going to be far reaching and will try to give effect to many of our social norms and, therefore, every Barbadian should have a stake in them,” she suggested.

Marshall-Harris stressed that she would also like to hear the views of young people between the ages of 15 and 18 because the laws concern them very directly.

Minister of Family, Stephen Lashley, is on record as saying that “some people at the local and international levels have expressed the view that Barbados’ family law is in dire need of modernisation and harmonisation”.

Marshall-Harris said this law reform project would, therefore, give some effect to that need.

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