24 August, 2008

Parental Responsibility

Legislating for Parental Responsibility. I read with interest this story from Bermuda. The government is considering introducing legislation to make parents and guardians liable for the criminality of their children. Is that legal? Every Anguillian law student knows that criminal liability usually depends on two factors coming together. First, you need a prohibited act. Second, you need a guilty mind. Without a guilty mind and a criminal act, you are not normally guilty of a crime. Unless, it is a crime of strict liability.

I remember Fitzroy Bryant of St Kitts. He was the Minister of Education in 1975 when I was a young lawyer practising in Basseterre. There was a serious problem of truancy at the time. He convinced his Cabinet colleagues to introduce a new offence into law. It was called “persistently permitting your child to be absent from school.” Many people said it was wrong to make a parent liable when his or her child stayed away from school. The cry was that most parents send their children off to school. They have no knowledge that the child does not attend but, instead, limes under the tree smoking marijuana and pretending to be a wannabe Los Angeles gansta. But, it did work. So far as I recall, the offence was never challenged in court. It may still be on the statute books in St Kitts, for all I know.

The way Fitzroy explained it would work was like this. Anyone seeing a child of school age on the street during school hours was encouraged to report the incident. The police would drive to the spot and pick up the child. They would find out if the child had written permission from the school principal to be out of school. If the child did not, he or she was taken to the police station and made to sit on the bench. The parent or guardian would be called to the station. He or she would be warned. The second time, there would be a more severe warning. The third time there would be a final warning. The fourth time was evidence of persistence. Now, the parent or guardian had some explaining to do. They cannot say they did not know their child was a persistent truant. They had received enough notice. They had plenty of time to work on finding out what was the child’s problem, and taking ameliorative action. It is this failure that was to be the offence. They would receive a summons to appear before the Magistrate. The Magistrate could fine or send to prison. Needless to say, no one expected a parent to be fined or imprisoned. Fitzroy’s hope was that the shock and shame would be sufficient. The parents would put that child under such heavy manners that future truancy would be out of the question. Did it work? I never heard that it did not.

So, there is nothing in principle wrong about making a parent liable for an offence when the child is persistently committing criminal acts. Presumably, it would not apply to the first instance of criminal conduct. Perhaps, not even to the second. But, a child doing criminal damage or criminal injury or engaging in any criminal conduct for a third time?

If the parent was liable for jail time, I guarantee you the third time would never happen. It would help if there was provision for counseling in life skills and civic responsibility before the third occasion. But, there can be no denying that it is what happens or does not happen in the home that decides whether or not a child grows up to be a pillar of society or a cancer on the body civic.

Is it time for us in Anguilla to contact the Bermuda government and learn from their legislation?


  1. > ...is it legal?

    It was in, heh, Republican, Rome, right?

    A kid did something criminal, or even immoral, and his father got flogged in the public square.

    Somewhere Robert Heinlein's laughing.

    Now all Anguilla needs after that, Mr. Cincinnatus, is a "National Service" requirement for the franchise. Or, heck, make "Service", whatever that is, mandatory upon reaching the age of "majority", whenever *that* is.

    [After that, the Government could mandate the exposure of "unwanted" baby girls on the hillsides. Or throw malformed infants over a cliff in the interest of saving on National Health bills. Or institute a One Child Per Family law to keep down the surplus population, er, improve family planning... Or some other modest, er, appropriate, propos-er, social engineer-er, justice, er... Oh, forget it.]

    So, Backwqrds To The Future, we go! 166 BC and all that! Boo-rah! Dust off the jack-boots! Or hob-nailed sandals and wool socks, or whatever. Polish up that lorica segmentata! Legislate it all, and let Jupiter sort 'em out! Those lawbooks ain't half full, decemviri legibus scribundis! Drop and gimme ten more tabulae, or no lark's tongues for any of you at dinner tonight!

    So, if Anguilla becomes, say, Sparta, who's gonna play the Helots? The soon-to-be recontainerised and not-quite-yet-shipped-out Indians? Or all non-belongers in general? Blessed are the cheesemakers? Look on the bright side of life, Brian?

    Talk about resurrecting le Ancien RĂ©gime.

    'Course, if GOA deregulates the economy like it oughta, reduces barriers to market entry for entrepreneurs and reverses the current swirling, um, circular, downward trend towards oligopoly and, if you will, monopolistic "competition", Anguillians could go back to bootstrapping and running their *own* businesses instead of working for *other* people. Then, they could *hire* their own kids to keep 'em busy. Just like they used to.

    But of course, Whitehall -- or is it Brussels, can't tell these days -- says that would be *illegal*, right?

    After all, "we" must provide "proper adult supervision" for "the nation's youth". The Government -- or maybe Just The Right Quango -- should be Providing the Proper Youth-Crime Prevention Programme, eh, wot? Midnight Cricket, perhaps? It takes a village? EngSoc forever? We've always been at war with Oceania?

    Okay, maaayyyybe *not* so much, but you get the idea...

  2. ...by the way, the truancy juvenile daylight curfew thing *is* being done in the US. In Los Angeles. :-).

  3. "If a parent is charged and convicted, what penalty could be applied that would result in better parenting? Certainly not a fine or imprisonment. We could sentence them to parenting classes. I would support that.

    "I would much prefer that the base skills of parenting — communication, relationship-building, conflict resolution and values clarification — all be part of every youth's education. The strategy being to prevent rather than cure."

    --Stuart J. Hayward of Bermuda, 2006

    We need to decide whether our schools should be used to teach children how to pass exams so they can become dentists and accountants and make a lot of money, or whether schools should teach them how to become happy, functioning members of a community that works for everyone.

  4. Bermuda Royal Gazette
    December 01. 2003

    Failing parents face more than a trip to the principal's office

    By Stephen Breen

    Parents will be expected to spend half a day in their child's class, pay for damage caused by their kids, and supervise
    students during break at least once a year, under tough new school rules to be unveiled by Government.
    The new requirements are part of Government's drive to ensure deadbeat parents at public schools start to take an active involvement in their children's education.
    On Friday, MPs passed legislation giving school principals to the power to send delinquent parents - who do not adhere to a conduct of conduct - to parenting classes or face fines of $200 at Magistrates' Court.
    The next step is to spell out clearly what the new school rules will be - so parents know they can be taken to court if they failed to uphold the rules.
    In a letter to school principals from Acting Permanent Secretary at the Department of Education, Dr. Joseph Christopher -
    seen by The Royal Gazette yesterday - the full range of parental obligations is outlined.
    They include parents:
    Attending at least one parent-teacher conference per year;
    attending any team meeting;
    attending one half-day in the child's class;
    supervising students during at least one recreational period per year;
    accompanying students on at least on at least one field trip;
    attending at least one parent teacher meeting;
    ensuring all homework is completed;
    asssuming liability for property damaged by their child; and
    refunding, if asked, the value of damaged property, and if necessary, ensuring their child does community service as part of
    their punishment.
    Parents who fail to adhere to these tough new rules could face being sent on parenting classes or face $200 fines.
    Dr. Christopher outlined the responsibilities parents will be expected to assume when the rules come into play in a letter to Livingston Tuzo, the president of the Association of School Principals, two weeks ago.
    Mr. Tuzo said last night his executive will discuss the new rules at a meeting tomorrow.
    He added: "Anything that assists in allowing the kids to get the kind of service they deserve is a plus."
    Dr. Christopher said the new rules can be introduced after the Education Act is amended in Parliament.
    That process will be completed when Senate rubber stamps the legislation passed in the House of Assembly on Friday.
    He said the new school rules may come into effect as soon as they are passed, or at the beginning of the new school year in September, 2004.
    Parents will also be required to give truthful information when registering their children, and inform the school if their youngsters have any medical conditions and have been given immunisation.
    In the House of Assembly on Friday, Education Minister Paula Cox said the amendment to the Education Act to allow parents to be sent for counselling courses or face fines, she said it was time to get to grips with parents who are dodging their responsibility to take an interest in their child's schooling.
    She told MPs: "Parenting is not a choice. It is an obligation. Part of the obligation is to step to the wicket and be an active and positive force in the life of the child.
    "Those parents who do not live up to their obligations should expect to be taken to court and that a fine not exceeding $200 be imposed.
    "We have now given the principal, who is the front-line authority in regard to interacting with parents, legal and meaningful authority which is not just talk - it is action."

  5. Barbados Nation
    Getting tough with parents - Friday 01, October-2004

    DELINQUENT PARENTS are having to face a get-tough strategy by the Ministry of Education and the courts to deal with
    persistent student absenteeism.

    Parents are being hauled before the courts to answer for their children’s absence from school.

    Education officials said it was not so much that absenteeism was a growing problem, but simply that the laws against it were being applied more stringently in recent times.

    “From our point of view, [absenteeism] is nothing new. Maybe what’s happening now is that the ministry is enforcing the law. There has always been a problem with absenteeism at both the primary and secondary level,” said general secretary of the Barbados Union of Teachers, Herbert Gittens.

    Senior School Attendance Officer in the Ministry John Hollingsworth said that bringing parents before the courts was
    something that “happened very seldomly in the past, based on evidence.”

    He stressed, however, that bringing the matter to court was the “last resort” of the School Attendance Department.

    He said this would usually occur after they did extensive investigations and had intervened and tried to resolve the situation.

    “It is a problem, and the court is taking stringent action not as a first resort, but in all the cases we would have made initial contact with these families after checking school attendance registers. School attendance officers would have gone to the homes to ascertain why the children were not attending,” said Hollingsworth.

    He said depending on the problem keeping the child from school, they then sought help from state agencies such as the Welfare Department’s family services section or from non-governmental groups like PAREDOS (Parent Education for Development in Barbados).

    Education officials agreed there was little or no reason for parents to not send their children to school or to say that they did not know that they were not attending, as one parent claimed when taken before the court.

    “The school should be keeping records, and if the school is keeping records, there should be some point where information from the school should be channelled to the parent. They should not be in a position to say they did not know,” said Gittens.

    The maximum penalty for not sending one’s child to school is $50, and it has been suggested that this needs to be increased.

    While sentencing one parent recently, Magistrate Pamela Beckles said she wished the penalty could be increased to at least $1 000, a sentiment Hollingsworth shares.

    “The Education Act is currently under review and I hope that this is one of the matters that would be looked at. One
    magistrate did indicate that it seems to be inappropriate for something as serious as education,” he said.

    At the end of June, Hollingsworth had announced that 24 parents suspected of allowing their children to be delinquent were under surveillance by the ministry. He said that these parents were still being monitored.

    “If the situation does not improve up to five weeks into this term then the ministry will be forced to take further action. At the end of the day, the parents will have been written and warned,” said Hollingsworth.

    Copyright © 2001-2004 Nation Publishing Co. Limited

  6. Think about it this way.

    A government steals money (taxation is theft, after all, and customs duties are taxes, and capricious regulations are taxes on freedom and people's time) from people who work, causing them to work harder and longer hours to pay those taxes, thus preventing them from properly supervising their children.

    The government then, monopolistically, forces their children into actual warehouses every day to keep them off the street, and gives some smidgen of that stolen money to government employees who teach those children anything but how to make a living, or even how to work, or even what the parents want the children to learn, like, say, how to speak in intelligible sentences, how to read, or how to count without using their fingers, or, even, how to stay out of jail by not breaking the law; instead, teaching the worship of nature instead of the God of their parents, disrespect for authority -- even their own, that history is made and written by evil men, and that their own civilization is a blight on mankind and the earth in general.

    The children then, in the absence of parents at home -- see "taxes" above -- spend their time at home not studying math or science, or even literature and history, but instead watching the glorification of immorality, violence, and criminality on television, thus being "parented" by a box instead of the people that brought them into the world to begin with.

    Even better, the only actual "news" they see on that box, local or otherwise, is filled, top down, with government employees hustling various boondoggles, "programs", tax increases, more capricious regulation, and so on, instead of information that can be used to make them actually healthy, wealthy, and maybe even wise somehow.

    Is it any wonder, then, that the children grow up functionally illiterate and completely innumerate, and not knowing about their culture and history? That science is just a point of view and that morality is "just another lifestyle choice"? That they think money just happens, randomly and capriciously, without work? That criminality and violence are actually acceptable "lifestyle choices", and that the way to get really get ahead is to get the government to give you a handout, or a no-show job, or regulate your competition out of business, or, better still, to become a legislator who literally legislates his own income out of the pockets of his ostensible constituents?

  7. We have a law here in the UK that puts the onus on parents if kids stay away from school. Eventually the parent goes to jail as I know has happened a couple of times when the mother has been jailed. You'd need to find out what our law actually states.

    I realize you are talking about criminal acts, but here our govt hasn't got its act together and as far as I know there is nothing on the statute books holding parents' responsible. Pity! We sure need it as kids being sent to Remand Schools or similar am sure doesn't help in the long term and they become hardened criminals.


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