Protection for children born to Bermudian women
In order to comply with an international bill of women's rights next year, Bermuda may have to reform its immigration laws for children who receive Bermuda status and eventually constitutional change could be in the works.
Two legislators leave Bermuda this morning after five days of assessing Bermuda's overall progress on women's rights issues, so that Bermuda can sign on to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in the summer of 2011.
Appointed by the Commonwealth Secretariat and working with the local Department of Human Affairs, Grenada-based lawyers Jacqueline Sealy-Burke and Jasmin Redhead have just conducted a two month review of Bermudia's legislation, followed by a “country visit” this week.
Director of Human Affairs Deborah Blakeney said: “They've been filling in blanks, doing a situational analysis here, and gathering information from sources like Child and Family Services. They've met with the Attorney General's Chambers and Magistrate Tyrone Chin about the Family Court, and the Women's Resource Centre and the Centre Against Abuse, to look outside of our legislation and see how things work on the ground.”
Neither lawyer had visited the Island before. Staying this week at Hamilton's Rosemont hotel, they praised Bermuda as “beautiful and very hospitable”.
Ms Sealy-Burke also said the Island appeared to be doing comparatively well in terms of women's equality.
“Obviously, there is scope for improvement, but I should say to date, despite the long existence of CEDAW, there are no countries signed on who have full compliance. It is something that has to be monitored and updated all the time.”
Areas deserving of attention in Bermuda's legislation, she said, are: “Domestic violence, the criminal code as it relates to sexual offences, some issues around child protection, because CEDAW does extend to girls, and issues of sexual harrassment and employment opportunities.”
The UK government wants its Overseas Territories to sign on to CEDAW, and last month Bermudian delegates met in Anguilla with representatives from the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Turks and Caicos and Montserrat to discuss joining in full.
This week's visiting lawyers have compiled a review of Bermuda entitled “The Draft Review of Bermuda's Legislation for CEDAW Compliance”.
The document will be finished later this month, and sent to Minister of Youth, Families, Sport and Community Development Glenn Blakeney to present to Cabinet early next year.
Ms Blakeney said: “One of the concerns will be ensuring that children of Bermudian women get the status of their mother, and that children born in certain countries should have a right to automatic status to those countries we may have challenges, with the size of Bermuda and our immigration laws, to open up our borders. We're not sure at this point how far we can go toward complying fully with that article, but we want to get there.”
And she said that although Bermuda's Human Rights Act “takes us a long way”, articles of CEDAW legislation may eventually require amendments to the Constitution.
“Some of the recommendations we will make are for constitutional change in order to put some of these Articles into our primary document, to ensure that these aren't easily changeable, that these are enshrined.”
Ms Blakeney admitted it would be a difficult process, but would be recommended to Cabinet nonetheless.
Other issues of concern are foreign workers in Bermuda, whose issues have changed greatly since the 1997 Women's Report.
Ms Blakeney said: “We now have so many domestic workers and caregivers, from other jurisdictions. Our visitors this week have come to find out about these new sets of female workers who need to be protected and included in an updated way.”
Ms Sealy-Burke confirmed that the 1997 report was “somewhat dated” and Bermuda needed “a very probing analysis using CEDAW as its backdrop to bring us closer to what's expected. A campaign of public education will also be needed. CEDAW is not a household name.”
The two lawyers head back to Grenada this morning, and expect to finish their recommendations for Bermuda by later this month.