National Youth Parliament calls for swift action on youth violence

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By Robert A Emmanuel

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The National Youth Parliament Association of Antigua and Barbuda (NYPAAB) has called for swift action to address the issue of youth violence within the country.

During a televised debate in Parliament last week, the Association, alongside Senators Samantha Marshall and Shawn Nicholas, moved a resolution for action on rehabilitation and development of at-risk youth.

Several members of the Youth Parliament, including Ezekiel Francois who opened the Parliamentary debate, called for a holistic focus on youth issues, arguing that society needs to be more proactive, not reactive to major issues.

“Antigua and Barbuda is full of avengers…we wait until something happens to do something…we do not care about the youth, because if we cared about youth, it would not get to this point.

“Youth violence did not just occur starting this year, we have failed, every stakeholder has failed, the media…the schools…parents…all of us have failed because we have done nothing for so long; we allowed it to get to the point where every single day I open my phone—violence, and it is ridiculous,” Francois noted.

He added that there needs to be more mentorship programmes for youth.

St Mary’s North representative, Celine Edwards, called for the development of support groups for young victims of violence, to assist in mental health recovery.

She revealed that in her conversations with victims of youth violence, many were unwilling to relive their experiences, or share their thoughts on a public platform.

“Many times, youth develop illnesses without even noticing, and it goes untreated; unfortunately, our youths gravitate to drug abuse and alcohol . . .  the marijuana is now more common, for relief and comfort [and] it has been heavily portrayed in our society’s music and TV shows.

“We cannot ignore the fact that our youths are altering the state of their minds on a daily basis in some cases,” she explained.

Senator Samantha Marshall added to the conversation of mental health reform.

“One of our weaknesses is our mental health policy, and how it is that we ensure our young people receive that level of counselling and guidance because they become frustrated.

“This has become even more complicated since the Covid-19 pandemic…so it is critical… to ensure that mental health policy is modernised, and we remove the stigma by the type of legislation we have in place.

All Saints West representative, Christal Percival, lamented the lack of interest in community activities and called for greater parental involvement.

“We are also to blame because we have provided the facilities, the community centres, but are we engaging with our young people, are we taking thirty minutes or an hour of our time to go on a football field and mentor young people?” Percival asked.

She added, “We have to provide a group therapy for our parents and children, nobody wants to hear that their child [is in trouble] …our parents are enraged, our parents are in denial and therefore, this group therapy is to communicate with their children, accept what was done and to move forward in a positive light.”

Meanwhile, All Saints East and St Luke representative, Esquire Henry, spoke about the need for stronger resource allocation in youth development programmes, including peer support groups, after- school recreational programmes, internship programmes.

“I believe that the Department of Youth Affairs deserves one of the highest budgets because they have the greatest responsibility to address the concerns of our youth.

Senator Shawn Nicholas praised the Youth Parliamentarians for their debate, as well as the youth group ‘Gen-G’.

She also spoke about the need for attention to be paid to both young boys and girls in addressing youth issues.

“I feel, as a society, that we have somehow failed our young people, especially our young girls. I know that there are times when I am driving down St John’s and I would slow down and stop to talk to them…and eighty percent of the time, if looks could kill, I would not be here.

“I want our young women to know that you do not have to be bad to get along, so let us not focus all our attention on the boys,” she said.

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