The Juvenile Justice Bill will be presented to Parliament by month end, Minister of Public Security Khemraj Ramjattan said on Wednesday, while speaking on issues related to ‘Youth, Crime and Violence’ at the University of Guyana’s eighth Turkeyen and Tain talks.
Ramjattan was on a panel that included Pastor Eworth Williams, activist Derwayne Wills, and Child Protection specialist Patricia Gittens. Assistant Commissioner of Police Clifton Hicken, though slated to speak, was not present at the event.
The discussions, which invited comments and questions from the audience, touched on youth policy, constitutional reform, and the justice system, including how culture can influence youth to become involved in crime, and affect them once they become part of the system.
“In a study I did just recently, I looked at the relationship between parenting styles and juvenile delinquency. And what it showed is that our parenting styles in Guyana [are] literally… creating some of the issues we have with our youth,” Debbie Hopkinson, a member of the university’s sociology department commented. “Our youths are becoming violent because sometimes they’re abused, and sometimes they become a victim twice—first, by being abused, then when they wander away, the system also makes them a victim again. And that is something we need to look at…,” she added.
In response to a query from Hopkinson on the status of the Juvenile Justice Bill, Ramjattan stated that the bill is complete and will be taken to Parliament by the end of this month, when costing has been completed. The bill will then be debated in October.
Once passed, he said, it will do away with several archaic laws that are responsible for the incarceration of many of the country’s youth.
“In that bill, all the difficulties we have, I have made sure that the consultation process went through successfully — truancy, wandering, all those economic crimes are going to be abolished. All of them, and they are not going to be made crimes anymore because the days for that are long gone…,” Ramjattan said.
He further stated that policing authorities would have “far more stringent methods” to follow when it comes to the incarceration of youth and that provisions would be made at police stations to have rooms for juveniles.
After being called out by Dr Nigel Gravesande on what he said was a 0.7% budget allocation to youth, Ramjattan assured those gathered that this figured would be upped once monies became available.
“If we have to take our monies and do what is regarded as priority by all Cabinet, we have to do that. It does not necessarily mean that importance is not attached to others. And youth, especially, we feel we have to spend more money on and that is why of recent times—and this might sound again clichéd—we are making sure now that the bailouts that we will have for sugar will have to come to a halt,” Ramjattan said.
“… At the present moment, because of the fact that we do not have resources… sugar is not doing well, bauxite is not doing well, only gold it would appear is doing that well and until such time as we have a better day with an oil revenue stream, we have to start making some serious decisions, and we have started making those already,” he added.
Ramjattan noted that the government in its mandate of youth development has been guided by a number of published reports, including the United Nations Report on Violence against Children; Crime, Violence and Development; the Citizens Security Survey; and the Paramaribo Declaration on the Future of Youth in the Caribbean Community.
Acknowledging that a lot of reports are usually churned out but shelved, the minister stated that there is a need to begin utilising the recommendations in order to “immediately walk the talk”.
He stated that among those recommendations is the need to provide skills training in at-risk areas, while referencing the Guyana Police Force’s programme that sees divisional commanders setting up youth groups within such communities.
He also made reference to the IDB’s Citizen Security Strengthening Programme, one of the components of which is to train 25 students from across 20 communities in areas such as carpentry, masonry and electrical engineering, and providing them with a US$70 allowance so they are able to attend the nearest skills centre.
“I know that it is going to be a difficult task solving this thing because it is somehow …young people feel that they could do the wrong things because the wrong things are being done by everybody, high and low. And when a culture starts that bad habit of young people thinking that that can be done it is going to be very, very dangerous,” the minister said.
Wills had shared similar sentiments in his presentation.
“We must be mindful of the images our youth are fed – particularly our men. Everywhere I look, I see the lucrative spoils of celebrated local kingpins who walk amongst us. We must also be mindful of how these images shape the value systems of our youth, particularly men, in their pursuit for success,” Wills had stated. Ramjattan had also made reference to how parenting and the socialisation process affect how youth relate to crime.
Shedding light on the inefficiencies in the justice system, Wills spoke of what he called “indifference” on the part of magistrates as it pertains to the sums assigned for the granting of bail to persons who hail from impoverished communities, and criticised the outdated legislation that results in scores of persons being incarcerated for offences such as narcotics possession. It was on this note that he referred to the recent events as a correction of the system.
“I was prepared to stand here and champion many causes for reforms – in the prison system, in the modus operandi of the police, in the judiciary… but the prisoners of Camp Street have accomplished in a matter of days what activists have championed for years,” Wills stated.
“…These are continued acts of defiance against the system and its agents for unnecessarily long trials, inefficiencies in the police prosecution system, exorbitant bail amounts… just naming a few… Justice delayed is justice denied. And the Camp Street prison fire remains a radical act of defiance which has forced the system to correct itself,” the youth activist further said.