During the prime minister’s press conference last month he touched briefly on some of the actions his government plans to take to bring down local crime figures. He implied that forceful action by authorities is not necessarily the best way to tackle criminal activity among the youth. “Fighting crime with force, particularly the type of crime that we have, we don’t believe is going to work,” he said. “Young people who feel that they have been disfranchised by the system are going to react negatively to people harassing them, meaning they’ve already given up on the system; they don’t think the system cares or is compassionate.”
The usual complaints of harassment of juveniles by the police will not reduce the level of crime. There needs to be an approach that considers the circumstances of young people in distress. Prime Minister Chastanet preferred the idea of inducing change in the social triggers of crime. “The source of the problem is in the social aspect of it and the solution is not going to be immediate,” he said.
He offered imagery of a young woman of 21 with three children. “Who is bringing up these young guys? Who is bringing up those young girls? Their mothers are just trying to survive and we need to be much more compassionate.”
He suggested that if children are not raised with sufficient guidance and supervision, then they will go looking for somewhere to foster the feeling of belonging. If their new chosen families are gang-related, they will participate in criminal activities, if only to make an impression.
The answer to this social predicament, educational disdain and crime stimulus, according to Chastanet, is: “Bringing back clubs in Saint Lucia.” It’s not a novel idea. As Police Commissioner Severin Monchery put it: “There is a social problem stemming from young people having too much time on their hands.” The prme minister reasoned that occupying children from 8 or 9 a.m. until three in the afternoon at school and then another two hours or so in a social club would be ideal to balance academics and extracurriculars.
Chastanet imparted that the after-school clubs would be made fruitful by ensuring they are operated properly with specified goals, unlike some in the past.
The prime minister did not assure this project’s fruition in a timely manner. In fact, he said money from the national lottery, supposedly allocated to projects of this nature, would amount only to half of the cost of having coaches for those clubs. If money is injected into those after-school sessions, would students’ parents then be required to pay for it? If so, how would the earlier-mentioned “mothers who are just trying to survive” cope with this finanacial burden?
The PM went on: “So when I go to other places, in Canada and kids are on iPads . . . ” It’s easy to discover that some of our students can barely afford textbooks, let alone iPads. Other students, who can barely make their tuition fees, have to choose between paying their commute and going without food. In any case, said a teacher, “Even the government can’t sustain a laptop programme without outside assistance.”
Secondly, social transformation cannot be rooted in after-school programmes. Chastanet rightly inquired about who are raising the so-called leaders of tomorrow. Most times, it’s not their parents. The surrogates, by whatever name, obviously have not been able to prevent our young people from becoming victims of prostitution, rape and other horrors.
To be fair, the Ministry of Education has begun #EducateSaintLucia, a programme to help provide for underprivileged students. It started with the goal of “10,000 knapsacks filled with school supplies” from the sponsorship of corporate entities, island-wide. And it is plausible that those social clubs of dance, art, sports and so on will introduce more variety, occupy students during post-schoolday hours and foster a nature of competitiveness. I remember the enthusiasm of those “youth at risk” who benefitted from the
Sound Waves programme earlier this year.
But what happens to those students whose parents would not make it a priority to ensure they participate in those clubs, those students who cannot afford to make it through the initial hours of school, and
those who cannot read or write in the first place? What about those who are unable to afford to maintain a healthy enough diet to participate in extracurricular activities? There are so many other factors to be addressed, all at the same time.
Perhaps it is time to legislate that all parents be responsible; time to provide resources for already existing clubs and to focus on revitalizing the education sector to be more proficient first. Then again, some might legitimately advise I wake up and smell our special brand of coffee!