Stemming the crime epidemic
VEL A LEWIS
IN 1994, the late Justice Lennox Deyalsingh described the crime condition in TT as reaching epidemic proportions (Trinidad Guardian, June 20). Back then there were regular reports of such violent crimes as murder and armed robbery. Even since then, there were concerns that many of the criminals involved in those matters were young people and most of them showed little or no signs of remorse.
At that time, some of us who worked with young people in the field of culture and the arts took an interest in examining the phenomenon of youth and violence in the country and in the Caribbean generally. The key factors which were identified as possibly impacting on youth and violence included the economic situation, unemployment, education and parenting (upbringing of children). These factors continue to present challenges in our society in respect of youth violence.
In our march towards development, TT and many other Caribbean countries have had to adopt financial systems and measures that were designed and very much controlled outside of the region. Some experts have argued that even as these non-indigenous economic measures have been touted far and wide as being successful, their implementation in the region has not been without negative results, especially on the youth.
Research has also suggested that the nature of the small economies in many Caribbean countries is a source of risk for youth. Some of the negative results and risks that have been identified include cultural alienation, social and economic marginalisation, and high rates of unemployment.
Admittedly, the problem of unemployment can be a frustrating experience for adults, but it is an even more devastating experience for young people entering the job market. Some experts have determined that youth unemployment has the potential to have significant and serious social repercussions, can tinge young people’s relationship to their community and negatively direct the course of their young impressionable lives.
It must be recognised, though, that for a long time the education system which we inherited and cultivated, subordinated vocational and technical skills to academic curricula. The perception that was held, therefore, was one that gave white collar jobs a higher social and economic status than blue collar jobs.
This perception was reinforced, for example, in policies and programmes that emphasised industrialisation and modernisation to the detriment of agriculture. Some have argued that this notion resulted in limiting the desire of young people to pursue opportunities for training and employment in technical/vocational areas.
In TT, as in many Caribbean countries, at the foundation of the education of children and young people was the inculcating of spiritual, moral and ethical values, particularly by parents and guardians but also by others who interacted with children. Many have argued that over the years there has been a falling away of this practice in the upbringing of our youth.
It is agreed that morality is subjective and that moral values tend to be open to interpretation in the general scheme of things. Ethical values, on the other hand, tend to be more absolute and are distinguished by the social or community settings.
Some experts in the field of education warn, though, that an understanding of both moral and ethical values is essential as these values are important components of any individual’s character. The teaching of these values from early childhood enables the young generation to grow in acceptable behaviours in the society in their older days.
One can conclude, therefore, that a breakdown in the transmission of values, compounded by the difficulties posed by our economic situation, the problem of unemployment and the challenges within our education system, as well as the growth in access to social media in recent years, has cultivated in many of our young people lowered self-esteem, diminished self-worth, anxiety, confusion, lack of direction, purposelessness, and anger.
The result of all of this, combined with the prevalence of and access to illicit drugs, arms and ammunition is seen in the growing incidence of violence and serious criminal activities within our societies in the region.
It is therefore extremely important that regional leaders have recognised this situation and have given the commitment to closer collaboration in treating with the matter at the recent symposium “Violence as a Public Health Issue – the Crime Challenge,” held in Port of Spain.
In this regard, and as many have espoused, the concrete steps to be taken based on the deliberations at the meeting will be crucial in stemming the “epidemic,” as many have again labelled the crime condition in this country and across the region.
Finally, while government and state agencies must continue to put in place innovative economic, social, cultural and educational policies and programmes which would help to alleviate the problems of unemployment and other challenges faced by young people, there remains a major role for ordinary people in arresting the situation of youth violence and crime.
In this connection, it is imperative that parents, guardians, teachers and all who interact with young people in guiding their development must have the conviction to bring up our youngsters in a way that they can shape a good character and make them better adults, community members and citizens.
Vel A Lewis is former permanent secretary in the Ministry of National Security
"Stemming the crime epidemic"