By Elesha George
A breakdown of the traditional family unit and lack of parental supervision and involvement are the leading factors that residents in Antigua and Barbuda have attributed to violence among young people.
The disclosure comes after an informal survey conducted on the Observer’s Facebook page, which garnered responses from over 100 concerned citizens. The question sought to uncover the root causes behind the surge in violence among young people in the country.
“Some parents trying to be their child/children’s friend instead of a parent to them,” remarked one respondent.
“Parents need to care for kids but the messed up thing is society has forgotten what that means. All we see if we look is examples of what caring ISN’T,” another said, adding, “What we are seeing is generational trauma mixed with abuse which comes in many forms in our society.”
Economic challenges were also identified as a reason for absentee parents. Many parents in Antigua and Barbuda are forced to work multiple jobs to make ends meet, leaving them with limited time and energy to provide proper guidance and mentorship to their children.
“Sad to say but our children are left to raise themselves. Parents have to be working extra hard to feed their family because cost of living has skyrocketed. Some of us leave home before our children leave for school and come home just in time to have dinner and go to bed. Some don’t even get home in time for that,” one respondent lamented.
Another said some parents may be trying their best but are “out there working to keep a roof over these same children’s heads and also to provide for them and the only thank you for some of these parents is to get in fights and then have the same parents running back and forth to court for what, to pay money that they don’t have”.
Criticism was also directed towards the country’s Juvenile Justice Reform Act. The Act, while aiming to protect the rights of children, conceals the criminal records and reporting on criminal matters of children under 18 years old, which some argue can encourage a sense of impunity among young offenders.
” There are no consequences for their actions,” stated a concerned resident. “…They get in fights; they damage someone’s child or an innocent person then police release them into custody of their parents so they can do it again. The law needs to change or else our young men and women will be no more – these children have no respect for authority whatsoever.”
One resident, a former police officer, remarked that the Juvenile Justice Reform Act sends a message to children that they can get away with “anything short of murder”.
Community involvement in children’s lives was cited as another issue, with calls to investigate the root causes of children’s behaviour and provide support to vulnerable youth.
“There are hurt children in this country, children that are hurt sexually, physically, mentally, emotionally and they don’t know what to do with the kind of hurt they are feeling. So they are always on the defensive.
“Hurt people hurt everyone they come in contact with. That’s why we have to stop playing the blame game and get to the root of the problem. Set up a group of people to investigate the root of the children problem and why they are behaving the way they are.
“Get in the homes in the community and get to know the root cause and why the children are behaving the way they are. Sometimes it is much more than we can imagine,” the resident explained.
Additionally, the absence of positive role models and impactful afterschool activities, poverty, the influence of social media, unhealthy diets, and substance abuse were all highlighted as contributing factors.
One person felt like the leadership of the country is encouraging such behaviour, saying “YOUR prime minister threatened to thump someone in their face and it went viral with no apology (head of the snake rotten the bottom aint going to do better) … there is no consequence these kids are afraid of. Schools lack funding as well as support to tackle problems in house, eg all schools should have an officer but special attention and plan for schools with the reputation. Boys Training School and Sunshine Home for Girls should also have additional building where military personnel are teaching conflict resolution. Paid for BY THE PARENTS of these children caught fighting in uniforms. There should be a zero tolerance for fighting in uniform and heavy consequences for those who do.”
One commentator emphasised the need for a comprehensive study of these offenders, involving guidance counsellors, teachers, police officers, and community workers to gather data on all aspects of a child’s life. Suggestions were made for introducing Christian counsellors and Christian education in schools to help guide and support youths.
As the school year began last Monday, reports surfaced of students engaging in violent conflicts, often involving weapons and sharp objects. The gravity of the situation was underscored last Friday when a distressing video showed a group of students from Ottos Comprehensive School wielding sharp weapons as they engaged in a violent altercation outside the Little Canton Supermarket.
This week, yet another video emerged, depicting a shocking incident in which one student was beaten, stabbed, and robbed by fellow youngsters. The incident further heightened concerns about the safety and well-being of the nation’s youth.