One act, better justice

Children’s advocate, Faith Marshall-Harris.

One Act to handle child and family law issues will mean better justice in Barbados. At least that is the premise under which former magistrate Faith Marshall-Harris is trying to reform current laws dealing with these two issues to bring them together under a single statute.

In the penultimate week of town hall meetings last week, Marshall-Harris, who is UNICEF’s children’s advocate as well, pointed out that the proposed act would bring matters to do with child maintenance,

“When a law is at this stage we call it a bill because it has not been passed in Parliament as yet. It is the Children and Young Persons Bill and that will include the family arrangements I spoke of, maintenance, custody, guardianship, access; there will be a new Domestic Violence Bill and there will be a revised and amended Family Law Act…,” she told the very small audience at the Alexandra School Hall last Friday.

“It would cover all aspects of the proposed court because we noted that where there is one comprehensive act and you don’t have to dip into several acts there is better justice because you don’t have all the loopholes and anomalies then that lawyers thrive on and get away with then on technicality.”

She said with this draft Green Paper on children and family law reform in Barbados, everything would be done in the best interest of the child, including the harmonisation of age limits, where some laws placed adult decisions in the hands of a 16-year-old and others at 18 years.

“The preservation of the family is paramount… and another important principle is that the age of majority must remain constant. So we will define a child as birth to 14 years and a young person from 14 years until a person has reached his 18th birthday.”

The law, along the way however, would take into account the matter of evolving capacities, where there are certain instances where a child has a say in his/her own situation, for example the changing of his/her name on account of the mother’s marriage, or whom he/she wanted to live with upon the separation of parents.

The act, Marshall-Harris said too, should seek to address the rehabilitation of young offenders, to divert them from a life of crime.

“Rehabilitation is very important for youngsters and I have lived this life in what was then called the juvenile court, where you can see someone coming in and the parents even said they didn’t know what to do.

“Once the court has intervened by whatever means necessary, whether it is the Youth Service, whether it is a period of probation and looking at what can help, anger management, counselling, drug counselling because unfortunately many of our children are smoking marijuana, but many have started because it is happening in their family.

“When that rehabilitation works for youngsters, you can turn around the life of that youngster and you can be amazed at the transformation that can take place,” she stated. (LB)

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