(Barbados Nation) Minister of Home Affairs Wilfred Abrahams is promising a full investigation into an incident at the Government Industrial School (GIS) where a picture was reportedly taken of a nude 14-year-old girl in a cell.
The story, which was an exclusive in the Sunday Sun, dominated discussion on social media and drew the anger of Barbadians.
Board member Marsha Hinds-Layne, who spoke to the Sunday Sun, said she has repeatedly asked for the placing of children in solitary confinement to be discontinued and the doors to the cells removed, because it was illegal.
“This is used as a commonplace mechanism at the Government Industrial School. Every child that goes into the Government Industrial School is placed in solitary confinement at the beginning of their stay. No matter how I have said to the staff at the school, solitary confinement can no longer legally be used with juvenile offenders, they continue to do it.
“I have begged the Minister to take the doors off of the cells. If the staff are still doing it, the Minister has the power to remove the two doors,” she said.
Hinds-Layne noted: “This particular child was placed in the cell naked as she born because she was determined to be a suicide risk. I am saying if the child was a suicide risk we have a Psychiatric Hospital in Barbados, with the best trained psychologist and psychiatrist and occupational therapists.”
The picture was not circulated, but in a statement, Abrahams said a “member of staff or someone” seems to have breached the rights of the 14-year-old girl and if that was proven to be so “someone will have to answer for it”.
The full statement follows:
I come to you in response to the alleged incident at the Girls Industrial School that was reported in the press yesterday and has been all over social media today.
This incident has Barbadians outraged, and understandably so, because at the end of it, we’re talking about your rights of children, we’re talking about the rights of persons who are in the custody of the State. We need a full investigation into the protocols at the institution and whether the proper protocols were followed in this circumstance.
What concerns me is the fact that some member of staff or someone had access to, and breached the privacy of that child to take a photograph or a video of a child in a vulnerable situation. That is against the rules of the institution, that’s against the rights of the child, her rights to privacy. No person should have been in a position to take a picture of that child and expose that child to unwanted publicity or even ridicule, far less the institution.
At the end of the day, we will get to the bottom of this. If any of that child’s rights have been breached, someone will have to answer for it.
The Government Industrial School is not a perfect institution. We are aware of the shortcomings of the school and we are working hard on those. As recently as Friday, we had a full meeting with my Ministry, the Child Care Board, the officials of the Government Industrial School, persons from UNICEF, and we were discussing the policies or the evolving policies in relation to child protection legislation in Barbados. We ended up meeting with an agreement to fast-track that legislation as quickly as possible. The policy should come before Cabinet very shortly and the legislation should be pushed through in the shortest possible time. That’s how we ended on Friday.
I am not going to rest until we get to the bottom of this matter. I am not going to rest because this is serious. We are taking this very, very seriously. I am taking this very, very seriously.
The rights of any person, in particular a child, should never be compromised. And I don’t want it under my watch.