Gov’t mulls legal change to hold parents accountable for kids’ criminal behaviour

Government previously mulled plans to amend the Child Justice Act (Photo courtesy
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By Robert Andre Emmanuel

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Cabinet is contemplating a potential law change to hold parents accountable for the criminal actions of their children.

The news revealed yesterday marks a significant change in policy, coming less than a year after government suggested such a move would be unfair.

It follows a recent court case in the United States where a mother, Jennifer Crumbley, was held criminally liable for the actions of her son, Ethan Crumbley, who was 15 at the time of his crime.

The now 17-year-old was the perpetrator of a 2021 mass school shooting at the Oxford High School in Michigan, killing four students and injuring seven others. He is now serving a life sentence.

His father, James Crumbley, is currently on trial, following reports that he had taken his son to a gun shop days before the attack, and purchased the gun used in the shooting as well as buying 100 rounds of ammunition at a gun range.

Prosecutors in the case have argued that the parents were grossly negligible in preventing the actions of their son, including a reported lack of interest in his mental health.

The Cabinet, during their weekly Wednesday meeting, discussed the case, which has led to the shift, according to Information Minister Melford Nicholas.

“We will be looking at our own law to [determine] if a parent or guardian operates in an environment where they are wilfully blind to the criminal operations of their minors and then it turns out that there is a victim of that crime … then, yes, we are looking at implementing similar measures in our legislative framework,” Nicholas said.

The issue came into focus on Wednesday following an incident at the Ottos Comprehensive School’s sports day at the YMCA when gunshots rang out sending the children into a panic.

Three persons are reported to be in custody in relation to the incident.

Minister Nicholas said the caveat to this law change would be the ability of the prosecutors to prove that the parents or guardians were aware of their children’s actions beforehand and had the ability to prevent the incidents.

Some members of the public have argued for punishment to be levied—in some form—against parents whose children are involved in criminal activities.

The calls, which resurfaced in May 2023, followed the murder of 25-year-old Roudi Shmaly apparently by two young males, plus several spates of school violence—some of which involved cutlasses and youth gangs.

Back then, the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff Lionel Hurst told reporters that holding parents responsible—many of whom would be single mothers—seemed unfair.

At the time, Hurst said “we don’t have any laws for the behaviours of their young charges, and, in some instances, that would be unfair; some of the parents have just lost control and some of them are single mothers who do not have [time] to bring some discipline to these young men”.

Hurst also noted that the government has been putting initiatives in place to assist struggling parents with their delinquent children, including engaging with former member of the Antigua and Barbuda Defence Force, Lieutenant Colonel Ivor Walker, to develop a National Youth Service Corps.

In December 2022, the government also mulled plans to amend the Child Justice Act and other legislation related to juvenile crime.

The plans were outlined in a short paper by the Ministry of Social Transformation at the time and included:

  • Developing legislation that will make joining and functioning with a gang illegal.
  • Monitoring substance abuse by students, including alcohol, marijuana, and non-prescription drugs.
  • Strengthening community and civil society groups through training.
  • Providing support for wayward children through the Boys’ Training School and the Sunshine Home for Girls.
  • Increasing the number of probation officers and truancy officers.
  • Creating a national public relations programme to encourage acceptable behaviour among youth.
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