Cabinet considers new legislation as the fight to tackle violence among youth presses on

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Suggestions also include transforming the Boys’ Training School into a reform institution
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By Carlena Knight

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Making troubled youth wards of the state is one new measure that Cabinet said the government may be considering to tackle the ever-growing issue of school violence among youngsters.

Information Minister Melford Nicholas made the revelation on Thursday during the post-Cabinet press briefing.

“If they have in fact become incorrigible and they lack adequate parenting, then maybe the society has to move towards some sort of legislative framework where we can bring them under the control of wards of the state to be able to curb this insipid social development.

“We stand with the Minister of Education and the Ministry of Education, the teachers and the faculty at the school to lend support in this circumstance,” Nicholas said.

This support he was referring to derived from a troubling incident that took place earlier this week at the Clare Hall Secondary School where two masked assailants entered the compound with weapons to attack a student. 

They were thankfully not successful in their quest but the matter left many traumatised.

Already teachers and students at the school have participated in counselling sessions.

These incidents have been strongly condemned by Cabinet who reiterated that work is in progress to equip schools with adequate lighting to complement the physical presence of security.

These measures will be complemented with regular spot checks by law enforcement.

Nicholas went on to explain that changing the legislative framework to clear the way for such a move would first have to go through a number of channels.

He added that coupled with the fact a new minister is now involved with the Department of Social Transformation it will take some time before this measure among the other options can be passed.

“It really is not going to be a knee jerk response to it but the conversation we are now having is how can we open up the conversation to better treatment.

“So, even if we think about establishing these regimes for making these incorrigible youth, if you will, to be wards of the state, that requires further public engagement and discussion. The intent of the government still remains but we will have to give the new minister an opportunity to recalibrate,” Nicholas mentioned.

Last month, Senator Samantha Marshall was appointed Minister of State within the Ministry of Health, Wellness, Social Transformation and the Environment, with responsibility for Social Transformation.

The Ministry of Social Transformation was previously overseen by Dean Jonas after he was reinstated in May 2020 to the Cabinet.

He was relieved of his portfolio and given a six-month suspension earlier that year after allegations surfaced that, as the agriculture minister, he was conducting illegal contractual agreements. He was unsuccessful in retaining his seat in last month’s general election.

Security continues to be a hot topic as it relates to students and teachers on school compounds as there have been several incidents of violence over the last few months where students armed with weapons have attacked other students, with several of them ending up in hospital.

Suggestions are also being made to induct these youth into the cadet core programme and to transform the Boys’ Training School into a reform institution.

The upgrading of the Boys’ Training School has been mentioned on a number of occasions but to date there has been little process.

At the same time, there has been little to no talk on introducing a similar institute for girls.

However, Nicholas admitted that it is long overdue for some sort of action to take place to address both troubled young men and women.

Meanwhile, where the progress of the CCTV cameras is concerned, Nicholas said work is still ongoing to implement the devices.

“The work has already begun. The Ministry of Education did indicate that they had come up with a quick and easy solution and the vendor has presented a quotation which was accepted by the government through the Ministry of Education and the funding has already been approved.

“So I guess, the rest of it, the whole question of implementation, procurement and installation and commissioning, I guess the Ministry of Education would have given themselves some time for the implementation and of course, it will be by a school-by-school basis, so I guess it will be a phased implementation basis,” Nicholas added.

CCTV cameras were among several safety measures Cabinet previously announced to address the growing number of break-ins and vandalism at schools across Antigua.

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