Two teenagers shot dead, a young man wounded during an armed robbery and another caught red-handed at a crime scene – all within the last two weeks.
What made these youths turn to a life of crime? Could these cases be symptomatic of a larger problem, and if they are, what should be done about it?
Several social activists have said that these are questions we must ask ourselves, and that we must come up with practical solutions. In comments given to this newspaper recently, they pointed to deficiencies in the education system, the absence of supervision and community support and the glorifying of violence as contributing to the rise in crime among youths.
Efforts to ascertain the extent of youth crime were unsuccessful. According to Crime Chief Seelall Persaud, in law there is no ‘youth.’ He explained that persons are categorized as juveniles – those above ten and below 16 – and young people, namely, those up to 18.
He noted that the force did have a record of juveniles involved in crimes, but data on the other group had not been compiled. He said the majority of those in the juvenile group had been charged with wandering, adding that the only way to get them into the New Opportunity Corps was by way of charges.
The Crime Chief said that the number of charges brought against juveniles in 2010 had been 27% less than last year, and 18% less in the case of reports. He added that for this year 25 had been charged with simple larceny; 22 with break and enter and robbery under arms; 11 with wandering; five with narcotics; and three with murder.
Seventeen-year-old Randy Daniels was shot dead during an armed robbery at Chateau Margot on November 16. His alleged accomplices Victor Bobb, 26, of ‘B’ Field, Pattensen, East Coast Demerara and Quincy Arthur, 18, were wounded and arrested at the scene respectively. They have since been charged in connection with the incident.
Then on November 25, alleged burglar Camillo Mitchell, 18, was shot dead by a businessman. His relatives have since said that he was innocent of any wrongdoing.
Gap in caring for children
Co-ordinator of Red Thread Karen De Souza told Stabroek News last week that there was a serious gap in the area of caring for children, and this may be related to what is happening in the home. She considered that there was a definite problem within the education system which was contributing to the serious problems youths were facing today, and she pointed to the Ministry of Education’s ‘No Child Left Behind’ policy as being unhelpful.
She noted that society needed to start commending good behaviour and recognize those children who were crying out for attention. She explained that very often troublemakers in a classroom were given negative attention, and this should not be.
“We begin turning them into criminals by the way we treat them,” De Souza said, adding that the absence of the adult in single parent households due to work commitments needed to be addressed. She explained that often women were found working hard to support their children who were left unsupervised.
“The solution cannot simply be to find different jobs for the women. It is not right that in order to provide for kids a woman must have two or three jobs,” she said.
After-school programmes were required to promote the healthy occupation of time, De Souza said, noting that game shops needed to be monitored to ensure that children were not there during school hours. These shops, she said, caused children to develop a very unhealthy appetite for money.
She said that the fatal wounding of the teen in the East Coast attack came as no surprise to her, and that we would see “more and more” like him. She noted that this issue had to be addressed urgently before it got out of control. One way to tackle this was to create a good rehabilitation programme for young offenders.
“We don’t have the community services to fill the gap that the economy had created,” she observed.
Part of a greater problem
Member of the Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO) Bishop Juan Edghill said that young males becoming involved in violent crime was merely a reflection of a bigger problem, and he described them as “a lost generation.”
According to Bishop Edghill violence is a learned behaviour, and in a situation of family breakdown where a young man is looking for respect and acceptance, he becomes prey to the recruiting officers of the underworld.
“These boys are being so-called fathered by the criminal minds that exist out there,” he said.
Bishop Edghill said that if one did the analysis of these young criminals, it would be revealed that they were in relationships with women.
He told Stabroek News that he believed there were several basic ways of tackling the issue of youth criminals effectively.
The first, he said, was that society must put an end to all the things that glamorized, promoted and made crime appealing. The religious leader said that these issues must be addressed in the churches, mosques and temples.
Boys must be taught values and given talks on real life from as young as nine years old, he said. Speaking as a father, Bishop Edghill said that this was the critical age as it was around this time that little boys started asking all kinds of questions.
He added that society needed to stop making youths victims by condoning their actions because their fathers neglected them or because they grew up in poor conditions.
“There are many people like me who grew up without a father [and] who didn’t turn to a life of crime,” he noted.
Further, he said that the police should stop criminalizing young men by locking them up for liming at the street corner.
He called for the reintroduction of social organisations such as the Boys Brigade and Scout groups in every village where young men could learn to do something meaningful. He noted that it was at these forums that youths could hear stories of real life experiences which could make a difference in how they lived their own lives.
Edghill said there must be incentives for young men and boys who were performing well in an educational field. He said that there was no such thing as a bad child.
Another area to be addressed was the poor supervision of children. According to Edghill, children need guardians, and once they were properly supervised they wouldn’t venture into a life of crime.
He said that parents needed to have “parenting skills,” must be able to impart values and teach their children how to respect others.
Helping a child to develop their dreams was also a part of parenting, he said, adding that a lot of parents did not sit with their children and hear about their future plans.
“What we do is we are allowing the TV to raise our children and that should not be,” he emphasised.
Co-Chairman of the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) Mike Mc Cormack said that adult society had to accept a large part of the responsibility for “the mess we have created.” He opined that the first step to tacking this problem was stopping the glorification of all forms of violence.
“As a society we all seem to find reasons to justify some form of violence or other, whether domestic, racial, sexual, capital punishment, police brutality or corporal punishment against animals,” he said.
“Why a society in which everyone seems to justify one kind of violence or another is so appalled by youths committing violent crime mystifies me,” Mc Cormack went on, noting that the adult world took no account of young people or children when “it saturates the media and television with violence and sexually-charged images and films, but then is frequently appalled when young people act out the very same behaviour in real life.”
He noted that society had to start dealing with the issue of youth criminals by first putting the adult world in order, providing more positive and peaceful behaviour for young people to emulate.
McCormack stressed the need for the rehabilitation of offenders so that they could be turned into balanced citizens who were remorseful and who would take responsibility for what they had done.
A central feature of this plan was helping young people to understand how their actions had affected other people.
“What is not helpful are the periodic bouts of institutionalized vengeance by politicians playing to the gallery after a particularly heinous crime…” he said. (Zoisa Fraser)