With 70 percent of St Lucia’s population under the age of 35 and 50 percent of that number under the age of 25, it becomes paramount to focus on the development of the youth. The majority of people who have committed homicides and other offenses in recent times fall into this age bracket. Several devices such as youth camps and organizations have arisen to keep young people on “the straight and narrow.” However, the benefits of these devices are confined to some, not all, participants.
In 2011, the Ministry of Justice has proposed a broad spectrum approach to targeting St Lucian youth. Newly appointed Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Senator Rudolph Francis, held a press conference on Thursday December 30 to review the performance of the AG’s Chambers for 2010 and to outline plans for 2011. One of the areas his ministry will be focused on in 2011 is children and holding parents accountable for their children’s actions.
Francis said this decision was reached because of the acceleration of students congregating at locations in the city and he will be working with the Ministry of Education to address that issue.
As Francis puts it, “It is a hazard and it is a breeding ground for young criminals. The proliferation of students gathering around the Square, the Blue coral mall and now the Bay Walk Mall, in uniform, I think it’s very distasteful.”
As such the AG’s Chambers will be placing greater responsibility on parents for the supervision of their children.
“There are too many unsupervised, uncontrolled and out of control kids on our streets today,” said Francis.
He continued, “Parents will have to carry out and take a greater responsibility for the well-being, welfare and as well as location of their children. Parents I’m warning you, please ensure that you know where your children are because you will be held ultimately responsible.”
How exactly does the AG plan to make parents accountable?
“Very often now, children are seen on the streets, picked up on the streets and their parents are not even consulted in some cases and the children are dealt with. Parents have to become responsible. If your child has offended, you as a parent will be held responsible for your child’s actions. It is along those lines you as a parent have the responsibility for your child.
“We have not actually worked out the logistics of the implementation yet. Very often you pass and you see at midnight, 1am or 2am and you see a band of 14 and 15 year-old boys on the streets of Castries. What are these boys doing on the streets of Castries? No school child should be out on the streets after a certain time without the supervision or company of the parents,” said Francis.
In addition to legislation being created to place greater accountability on parents, the AG has decided to advance child care further.
“I think we are at the right stage for a youth centre and I’m grateful for former Senior Magistrate Florita Nicolas who is spearheading this project. We are looking at the development of a youth centre, one that will provide for both delinquent and troubled boys and girls.
“We are looking at inwards and outwards. We are looking at training. Because one has to borrow from the development and advancement that CARE has made over the last five years and recognize that there are individuals, young persons in our society, who are not able to pursue academics but can pursue the technical field or skills training and make a valuable contribution towards the economic development of the society.”
The concept of a youth centre of this kind is fairly new. The AG will be borrowing strategies from England’s Youth Court and Youth Development Office among others to assimilate the vision.
However, the AG does not believe this idea should be confined to the island. He spoke excitedly, “What I’m looking at is a regional concept of a youth centre. One that is going to incorporate boys and girls. One that is going to be inwards and outwards. One which also provides child protection and child care. You will have an area where delinquent and youth who are not juveniles will be housed, dealt with and treated. You will have another section where it will be for children in need of child care and protection which currently does not exist at the Boys Training Center. They are both put together [at BTC]. That we must keep separate. There’s going to be a chapel. There’s going to be a number of consulting rooms. There will be a number of social workers who are going to be counselors in there. There is going to be sports facilities. There’s going to be school facilities. There are going to areas where these boys are going to learn a trade, identify a trade as well as being taught more or better social skills. It is going to be more comprehensive.”
It takes more than just having a vision to materialize the concept. The AG could not give a projection on when the youth center is expected to come on stream.
Said Francis, “It would require first of all legislation, structure, physical layout, so we are now at that broad level discussion stage. We have conceptualized what we want to happen. We are now putting this on paper and advancing it. We will be coming to a number of
local persons for their assistance.
“You need people like Dr Stephen King who has been working with the youth, persons from the religious community, you will need the counselors, the police, the Boys Training Centre, Bordelais Correctional Facility Officers. It’s a very broad section.”