Making loitering a criminal offence is not the answer

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Criminalising students, who are caught loitering in St. John’s after school hours, and holding their parents accountable, will not adequately address the age-old problem.
This is the view has been expressed by President of the Antigua and Barbuda Union of Teachers (A&BUT) Ashworth Azille and President of the National Parents Teachers Association Alister Thomas, in response to the call by Director of Education Clare Browne for loitering to be made a criminal offence.
Browne made the call on Monday while announcing that the Ministry of Education will be taking the lead to address the problem which he said has been left unattended for years.
Azille is of the opinion that the articulation of a policy alone will not solve the problem. According to him, there is need for broad consultation with parents and other stakeholders.
He elaborated that there must be a firm policy put in place, informed by the views of parents, the parents-teachers associations, educators and the wider business sector.
 “Perhaps we need to employ the use of police cadets just to be present in the city and to ensure that children are dispatched from places where they are gathering unnecessarily.  But, initiatives like those will require that those individuals are properly trained in diffusing situations because I already foresee it has the potential to spiral into something very unsavoury if the authorities are not handling the situation very well,” Azille said.
He also explained that parents too should play a critical role in establishing expectations for their children and ensuring that they enforce those expectations.
According to the teacher’s union boss, while some students have legitimate reasons to be in the city, after school hours, there are others who insist on gathering in large numbers much to the annoyance of business owners.
Thomas put forward similar arguments. The head of the national parent-teachers’ association has posited that the issue is inter-related, in that, currently there is no integrated programme in place to respond to young people as it relates to extra-curricular activities.
“Are we engaging them adequately? Are we focusing sufficiently on vocational educational activities so that we would not just be looking at a tree but a forest? If we ensure that support is being through the national PTA and other organisations, the issues can be better addressed because there is a sharing of information,” Thomas said.
Parents who spoke to OBSERVER media also agreed that making loitering a criminal offence should be the last resort.

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