It was hardly any surprise that, other than the suggestion that public consultation should have preceded its passing, there was public assent to the Criminal Law Amendment Bill 2014 being recorded as law last month.
The Bill paved the way for the parents and guardians of children under the age of 16 to be prosecuted if their charges are found outside of their care and supervision, that is, loitering on the streets between 10 pm and 6 am.
The Criminal Law Amendment Bill 2014, we believe, was crafted with the view to arrest a worrying problem posed by groups of secondary school children in the city of St John’s after their school day ended at 1:30 pm.
We fully understand that children will always engage in behaviour that’s frowned upon by adults, to include congregating, being loud and obnoxious, and engaging in activities generally frowned upon by adults. But the problem ballooned to mammoth proportions when these “normal” social gatherings among teenagers escalated into brawls and bloody fights that often threatened the safety of innocent bystanders, passers-by and businesses.
Then, there are those members of the same groups who find perverse delight in spurring on the combatants while video-taping the fight just for the “fun” of instantly uploading it social media, and watching going “viral.” Incidentally, it is usually after the video has made the rounds that parents, teachers, the police and other figures of authority would learn of the fracas.
Then, at night, there are groups of teenagers, preteens even, who are left to their own devices and before they know it, find themselves enmeshed in criminal activities to include gang-banging, robberies, burglaries, thereby tarnishing their reputation for life.
Currently, Antigua & Barbuda is grappling with a crime situation in which criminals are becoming bolder by staging armed daylight robberies and home invasions. Statistics show that on average young men are the perpetrators of these crimes.
These disturbing scenarios are a cause of great concern to the general public and officials, as taxpayers are left to foot the resultant cost of the fallout from damage to property, care and treatment of the wounded, and whatever other expenses may be incurred as a result of crime and mayhem.
Such incidents cast a gloomy prognosis for the future of the youth to whom we expect to hand over the mantle of leadership for our affairs in the not too distant future.
As is the custom in our society, parents, guardians, grandparents, neighbours (the village) bear collective responsibility for instilling and passing on values — the sense of knowing what is right from wrong, respect for each other and their property, etc — to the younger set. And the basis of the instruction has always been placed in the Holy Bible.
But from observing the attitudes and actions of our young people of today, we can to a certain extent conclude that adults are failing their charges, miserably.
However, we hasten to point out that not all of the nation’s young are guilty of committing the unacceptable acts mentioned above. We pause to salute those parents who have indeed been taking their responsibilities seriously, and also congratulate the sober minded youth who refuse to be deterred from achieving their educational and career goals.
We are aware of the variables which come into the equation when youth errant behaviour is being considered: single working mothers; absence of role models; lack of financial and other support … but surprisingly, and too often, many of these youthful offenders come from seemingly stable households complete with mentors and family support.
A person is considered an adult when he or she attains the age of 18, so we are therefore in full support of the law, which holds parents accountable if their child/children are found roaming the streets after 10 pm.
“This Bill addresses the important social issue of young children loitering on the streets at night,” mover of the legislation’s amendments, Attorney General Steadroy “Cutie” Benjamin said during last year’s debate.
“Parents or guardians are first cautioned and may be held accountable and fined, if the court deems appropriate, $500 where the child has no proper reason for being on the streets at 10 pm and beyond.”
Perhaps the very thought of being brought before a magistrate to answer charges, being warned and eventually fined because their children have caught in the police dragnet, would cause some parents to sit up and take their God-given duties and responsibilities more seriously.