The Caribbean Voice is a New York-based NGO that has been involved in social activism since its launch in 1998. Currently it is focusing on suicide prevention and related issues in Guyana and the Diaspora and is working in collaboration with partners – other NGOs, businesses, socially conscious individuals, the media and various ministries in Guyana. Contact us at 621-6111 or 223-2637 or via email at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out our website at www.caribvoice.org
Since The Caribbean Voice launched our suicide prevention campaign over two years ago, we have engaged in almost 250 interventions. A majority of these cases have been young people between the ages of 15 and 25, and a significant catalyzing factor for them, is lack of employment, a reality, which engenders low self-esteem, low self worth and lack of coping skills.
Yet the unemployment/suicide tandem is one of many issues that beset Guyana’s young. UNICEF’s recent situational analysis report on Guyana states that ‘boys and girls in Guyana are exposed to elevated levels of sexual, psychological and physical abuse at home and in their communities, and that exposure to gender-based violence in the home ‘contributes to the aggravated situation of violence against children’. In fact, sexual abuse is identified as the second most frequent form of abuse perpetrated on children in Guyana. Also, as domestic violence and femicide (killing of women by intimate partners) continue to escalate, more and more vulnerable children continue to become motherless and fatherless, as many of the killers either commit suicide or are imprisoned.
The UNICEF report also points out that about 15 per cent of girls between ages 15 and 19 had begun child bearing. In fact, Guyana’s teen pregnancy rate is the second highest in the region with one in every five Amerindian girls, and one in every four girls who live in poor houses being a mother.
Furthermore, according to the Caribbean Human Development Report 2012 (CHDR), in an escalating crime situation in Guyana, the face of crime has been getting younger, fostered by easy accessibility to drugs and firearms. In addition, society has sent subtle signals of tolerance, encouragement and even respect for violence and deviant behaviour through the political and community systems of governance, compounded by ethnic and political tensions and reinforced by some leading figures in music and politics, as well as the media, especially through some letter writers and columnists.
The CHDR reports that as the value of legitimate structures and agents of socialization and their influence on youth behaviour are diminished, and as faith in formal governance processes decreases, young people seek to create sub-cultural systems of participation through criminal activities, which become viable alternatives to legitimate employment, social activism and normative personal growth. In the process, ethics, morals and positive social values are replaced by a certain degree of callousness and disregard for human life and personal property, while community mindedness and social responsibility are replaced by counter normative individualism and gang/deviant group loyalties, with its own morality and socialization.
Among the causes of youth violence identified by experts are: poor, high- crime neighbourhoods; parental ‘training’ of children to be confrontational and aggressive; the impact of technology; increase in school and pre-adolescents violence; low levels of educational achievements; high cost of living and levels of unemployment; exploitation and abuse by adults (43.3% of respondents to the UNDP youth survey reported themselves as victims of family violence) and exposure to community and gang volatility (youth mimic the acts of violence they witness or experience); loss of social cohesion; early sexual initiation (the age of first sex is among the lowest in the world: as early as 12.5 years of age among males.); drug abuse and mental health problems and inherent youthful desire to take risks with personal security and safety.
The CHDP indicates that victims of abuse in the home, particularly victims of sexual abuse, including incest, (a growing trend) sometimes run away from home and end up living on the streets thus becoming exposed to increased risk of resorting to criminal and violent activities. Law enforcement personnel are not sensitized and trained well enough to deal with issues relating to negative parental relationships and domestic violence, so they often turn a blind eye and leave the situations to be dealt with by the family, instead of applying the law, and even the courts often refuse to apply the law and/or are lenient when they do so only serving to compound matters.
The loss of social cohesion because of inadequate socialization by parents and schools, leads to social exclusion and low self- esteem among youth and makes them vulnerable to gangs, aggressive peers and adults, deviance and violent activities and crime as a way of life. Also, the ease with which crimes can be committed and the relative inability of law enforcement to identify and arrest perpetrators of violent crimes, make crime as a way of life even more attractive. So too the perspectives that enable perpetrators to see victims as ‘the other’, with respect to ethnicity, political loyalties, geographical location, class and status and differential socialization and culture.
While the latest available figures for the total cost of youth violence are for 2002 – US$70,672,498, given the rising trend over the last decade plus, it would not be difficult to infer a rising cost that could well top US$100,000,000. The monetary costs aside, youth violence constrains youth choices, freedom and opportunity, and creates an environment conducive to more violence. Also the risks to sexual, mental and physical health include promiscuity, unprotected sex, and substance (including alcohol).
Additionally, early sex has put young people at greater risk and made them more vulnerable to exposure to HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, as well as teenage and unexpected pregnancy, which constrain socio- economic potential.
The Caribbean Voice is on record as proposing a number of measures to tackle violence in society as a whole as well as in schools. One such measure that Voices Against Violence wants to revisit is corporal punishment. Since violence begets violence, corporal punishment in schools should be abolished and teachers should be trained in classroom management without use of corporal punishment. In fact, The Caribbean Voice had offered, both to the previous and the current governments, to present, for free, a workshop for teachers on classroom management without corporal punishment and while both governments were initially warm to the proposal, neither followed up on our offer. The proposal is still on the table.
The argument that former generations were brought up by the whip at school and such measures were effective, fails to take cognizance of changing norms, new knowledge and information about the socialization process and changing social and familial relations. Besides, abolishing corporal punishment would also bring Guyana in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. And it would be a preemptive measure against violence and associated crimes, which can be reinforced by placement of counselors in schools across the nation. Thus, Voices Against Violence calls on the Minister of Education, Dr. Rupert Roopnaraine, to fulfill his promise to implement this measure as soon as possible, instead of relegating it to a few years down the road as he proposed earlier this. As well, we strongly suggest that the mentoring programme launched by students of Queen’s College — whereby senior students take junior students under their wings and mentor them — be implemented in all high schools.
Also, Voices Against Violence urges the Ministry of Education, in collaboration with other stakeholders, to get into schools with the workshop on self-esteem, self-acceptance, self-forgiveness; and dealing with stressors. In fact, The Caribbean Voice has already held a few such workshops, as has the New Jersey Arya Samaj Humanitarian Mission, in collaboration with the Peace Corps. And, we urge mass-based and community-based organizations, especially churches/mosques/mandirs, trade unions, political parties and Parent-Teachers Associations to organize forums on empathetic communication, self-empowerment, dealing with stress, and developing coping skills. The fact is that these youngsters spend more time at home than at school, so it is critical to ensure that the home environment is also addressed so that school supports home, and vice versa.
Given this reality, we urge parents to always be alert to what’s happening in the lives of their teenagers, and especially to be aware of any problems teenagers face. Parents should always find out how their teenagers are doing, and if anything’s bothering them. And in addressing any problems, parents must choose their words very carefully, since words can, and often do, take on lives of their own.
Regardless of what the issues are, parents must let their teenagers know that they are loved, and that they can always depend on the help and support of their parents. The lives of children are more important than anything else; and whatever the issue, it must be dealt with in an atmosphere of care, concern, understanding and forgiveness. Thus parents must not use language that would alienate their teenagers, make them feel unloved and unwanted, make them act in anger and/or haste, or make them feel alone and lonely.
And while parents can and must draw on their own experiences as teenagers to better understand their own teens, they should not impose their views about how things should be on their teenagers, since the issues parents faced when they were growing up and the environment of that time are not quite the same as what exists today. Most importantly, parents need to understand any pain and agony their children suffer, and let them know that with their parents’ love, care and help, things will get better.
Meanwhile The Caribbean Voice has been trying for almost two years to set up a meeting with Ministry of Education, but promises made, have not, to date, resulted into the hoped for meeting. We are seeking this meeting to:
obtain permission to get into schools across Guyana with our workshop on self esteem, self worth and coping skills;
request the Ministry to come on board a national youth and student essay contest organized by The Caribbean Voice and Save Abee Foundation with total cash prizes of US$5,000;
formalize the training for teachers on classroom management without corporal punishment.
In fact with Voices Against Violence focusing on youth and students, it would indeed be appropriate for the Ministry of Education to ensure that these three endeavours can be placed on stream. Additionally we do urge that the measures outlined above also be given due consideration, As well we invite all other stakeholders to come on board and to reach out to schools and youth generally to help build self esteem and self worth and to imbue the young with coping skills to face life’s stresses and challenges.