Amid the concerns and annoyance that followed last week’s Caricom crime symposium at the Hyatt Regency, there was a valid and specific concern about the children of the region that wasn’t addressed to anyone’s satisfaction.
Brian Lewis, former TT Olympic Committee president now serving as Caribbean Association of National Olympic Committee secretary general, lamented the lack of strategic focus on sport as an instrument for engagement and support for youth.
Mr Lewis called for sport to be considered as an economic development and transformation tool, specifically addressing youth unemployment and the problem of dependency syndromes.
That concern was echoed by the chairman of the Sport Company, Douglas Camacho who expressed disappointment that sport wasn’t more specifically identified and targeted for discussion and assessment during the two-day symposium when he addressed a Public Accounts (Enterprises) Committee meeting on Wednesday.
The omission is surprising, given the focus that Caricom chairman and Bahamas PM Phillip Davis gave to the issue in his opening remarks at the opening of the conference on April 17.
Mr Davis noted the consequences of inadequate support for at-risk children and the need to more effectively shield them from recruitment into gangs through “recreational, educational, social and career-related outreach.”
Caricom is not unaware of the cost to the island states of institutional neglect of the region’s youth.
A Caricom forum on youth crime and violence held in Guyana in 2016 considered these issues and promised policies to improve the prevention of crime and youth violence.
Addressing the problem effectively demands multiple points of action, including initiatives to support faltering family units, improving parent-child interaction through targeted training, revamping the juvenile justice system to more clearly emphasise rehabilitation.
Education and the building of skills and emotional coping strategies that improve children’s capacity to integrate successfully into civil society should underpin these efforts.
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime has identified, as part of its contribution to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, sport as a key focus for building life skills by working with children between the ages of 13 and 18 years old.
These UN programmes emphasise the discipline and process of sport as a key to engaging young people. At the symposium, Stanley Mahase, former principal of a school in Morvant/Laventille, explained the challenges he faced over 20 years at an institution of education bounded by three rival gangs, each with their own agenda for the children under his care.
He urged the Caricom leaders to target programmes specifically to at-risk children, because in his estimation, the efforts aren’t reaching them.
“The people who know what is going on aren’t heard,” Mr Mahase said.
It’s time to do a better job of listening.