The Barbados government said that children under the age of 12 cannot be “deemed capable of being criminally responsible” as it seeks to harmonize child protection legislation with a child justice legislation.
Home Affairs and Information Minister Wilfred Abrahams told a news conference that to remove all uncertainty and all the other factors that come into play and arguments that have been made, under the new Child Protection Act “the cutoff line under this legislation will be 12”.
“No child under the age of 12 can be deemed capable of being criminally responsible,” he told reporters, adding however “that does not mean that a child can commit a crime or an offense and run free.
“But in terms of the criminal proceedings you can’t institute criminal proceedings against a child,” Abrahams said, adding that the new legislation was drafted to be fully compliant with the various conventions that Barbados is a signatory to as it relates to the rights and protection of children.
“These include the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the administration of juvenile justice, United Nations Rules for the protection of juveniles deprived of their liberty, and United Nations Guidelines for the prevention of juvenile delinquency.”
The age of criminal responsibility is 11 years and Abrahams said that the new legislation also speaks to the fact that the law court or anyone performing functions pursuant to the provision of the Child Protection Act should be guided by the fact that the safety, welfare, and well-being should be the paramount consideration.
“I started by saying that we are looking to harmonize the child protection legislation along with a child justice legislation. If a child under 12 is engaging in behavior that would be strictly criminal behavior, then you have to look at the circumstances of that child. And although you can’t prosecute them for it, the state has to be able to take protective measures in the best interest of the child,” he added.
Abrahams said the Child Justice Bill 2022, to be laid in Parliament soon also indicates that a child will be given the opportunity to respond before any decision is taken which would affect his/her life.
“A child shall be addressed in a manner appropriate to his age, maturity, and intellectual development. A child shall be treated in a manner that takes into account his beliefs, and all procedures to be carried out pursuant to this act should be conducted and completed in a timely manner.
“The parents and families of a child should have the right to assist the child in proceedings under this act, and wherever possible, to participate in decisions affecting the child.”
He said all consequences arising from the commission of an offense by a child shall be proportionate to the circumstances of that child, the nature of the offense, and the interest of society, and a child should not be treated more severely than an adult would in the same circumstances.
Abrahams said, a child lacking family support and educational opportunities should have equal access to available services, and every effort should be made to ensure that the child receives equal treatment in relation to other children who have committed similar offenses.
He said that at multiple stages of the process, there will be opportunities for diversion from the strict legal services to an avenue that encourages rehabilitation and seeks to guide the child through a solution that does not subject them to a full trial and incarceration. (CMC)