Legislation to address youth violence unlikely before elections but gov’t promises other measures

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Information Minister Melford Nicholas (File photo)
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By Robert A. Emmanuel

[email protected]

Amendments to the Child Justice Act and other legislation related to juvenile crime seem unlikely to come before Parliament before the upcoming general elections.

New laws aimed at tackling youth violence and stamping out gang culture were among a slew of proposals announced by Cabinet yesterday.

However, the government pledged to utilise other measures to promptly address the recent spate of gang activities among schoolchildren.

The plans – outlined in a short paper by the Minister of Social Transformation, Dean Jonas, and his ministry – were unveiled Thursday.

Proposals include:

  • 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

However, as the last sitting of Parliament for the year took place yesterday and general elections are constitutionally due in March 2023, the likelihood of any Bill being passed on this matter before then seems questionable.

Observer asked Minister Nicholas whether or not the government would be able to pass legislation within three months.

He conceded, “Based on the timeline, it may well be not before March that there may be a resumption of the legislative agenda.”

Minister Nicholas further explained that the government will focus on other areas to stem the recent increase in youth-on-youth violence.

“There are a number of areas that we have to utilise in terms of the existing social services in the Ministry of Social Transformation, based in terms of what Ministry of Education is doing and based in terms of what law enforcement is doing,” he explained.

Minister Nicholas’ comments followed an emergency meeting held by Ministry of Education officials, including Director of Education Clare Browne, and police and other education personnel on Wednesday.

At the meeting, they agreed to focus on increased police patrols at youth hotspots, including bus stations and the YMCA complex.

In addition, the Cabinet also announced the decision to consult with a former member of the Antigua and Barbuda Defence Force who “has consistently run a boys training programme that has transformed the lives and direction of boys who were going astray”.

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