Our Children Need Saving by Zita Barnwell

Our Children Need Saving by Zita Barnwell

Our children are in crisis. They are crying out for help and we need a rescue team to save them. The survival of our nation as peaceful and hospitable depends on it.

In last two months, social media have been abuzz with videos of school aged children locked into vicious assault and battery. One video showed two young secondary girls in uniform engaged in a vicious fight. One of them was so enraged that she ended up pushing the other over an embankment. In her fall over the embankment, the victim took a young boy with her. Both probably suffered serious injuries.

Last week another video featured. In it a young boy hammers serious blows into a young girl. The young girl is unable to defend herself; she is overpowered. Hammering another with slaps and fist seem to come natural to the young boy – with an ease and flow as if he were accustomed to committing such acts. Everyone is alarmed. Threats of what would have happened to him had it been a daughter or niece is the common response. Worrisome is the fact that while this beating was happening no teacher was in plain sight. It is a crime of opportunity occurring in a primary school classroom.

The majority response to this latter video was shock and horror; and rightfully so, heartfelt sympathy poured out towards the battered girl. There was a modicum of pity and concern for the young boy; many lay blame squarely at the parent(s) feet for his vile act.

But, let us pause for a moment and lay aside our instinctive emotions for more than five breaths. Let’s ask ourselves: Where was the class teacher? I am sure every school authority understands their role in locus parentis. Does the young boy have a history of violence? If so, what interventions, if any, have been applied? What should be the authorities’ response? The main response cannot be corporal punishment or suspension permitted under sections 52 and 54 of the Education Act, respectively. What should be our moral response?

For certain, we cannot discard this troubled young man onto the piling heap of marginalized young men. It is very obvious he needs help. Are his parents able to provide the kind of care that is necessary to ensure that he is placed firmly on the road to good character?

The age of criminal responsibility is 8 years, but this young boy of about 11 years seems not to have properly grasped the moral and legal concept that it is absolutely unacceptable to assault ANYONE unless in self-defence or in defence of another. If he does know but could not care, then our community at large might have a problem. It is very likely that his parents are overwhelmed with providing the requisite care. Perhaps they too need our help.

He is not alone. June 2015, a 12 year old little girl was overtaken with such rage that she stabbed and killed a 15 year girl over a piece of clothing. So novel was the killing that the State was at a loss about what to do with her before and after sentencing. Minors cannot be jailed with adult offenders, and in this particular case there is no juvenile detention center for girls. She was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment.

June 2016, 4 young boys along with a 21 year old male were arrested and charged for raping a 14 year old girl.

September 2017, 3 teen girls ages 18, 19 and 19 years were charged with killing a 23 year old young woman.

February 2018, 3 teen boys, 15, 16 and 17 years, were charged with raping a 12 year girl at school.

Teachers are constantly complain about increasing violence of varying degrees, that pornography is becoming commonplace, and that school counsellors are overwhelmed and overburdened.

For more than 5 years now the nation’s children are being catered to by only three child protection officers in the Ministry of National Social Development, Family, Gender and Persons with Disabilities. There have been calls, internally, for doubling that number but the calls have been ignored. Meanwhile, Marion House is over-subscribed and under-resourced.

In 2011, the United Nations ranked St. Vincent and the Grenadines number one, per capita, in the world for reported sex offences against children. April 2016, the government launched a national child protection policy. Minister Stevenson described it in an article carried by IWN as a “macro-based legal and social protection strategy aimed at strengthening national protection systems, support social change, promote child protection…” How are we leveling up now with this policy and the government’s commitment to protecting vulnerable citizens? And where are we with the Child Justice Bill that was tabled almost a year now in Parliament?

There has been some progress with the law. The Child (Care and Adoption) Act 2010 was finally passed in 2015, but is this sufficient to pull us back from falling over the precipice of irreparable societal harm?

Understanding the root causes of the issues, acknowledging that some of our cultural beliefs, values and practices cause the ‘evil’ that children do, engendering a culture of compassion and implementing effective rehabilitation programs could benefit us. Our children need our help urgently. Let’s help them save themselves. Zita Barnwell – Lawyer & Human Rights Advocate