Commentary from Mr.Roddy Heyliger:Desperate to belong, be valued and have a purpose

The cooperation protocol signed this week Wednesday by justice system representatives comprising of Police, Office of the Public Prosecutor, Court of Guardianship, Prison & Probation Department, to tackle the rise in youth criminality is a start. 

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This form of cooperation is not only happening on Sint Maarten, but has been recognized as a necessity in the fight for the lives of young people. For example, several U.S. Virgin Island agencies have also just this month come together joining forces to fight against what they call the increasing problem of gangs in the U.S.V.I.

The group is made up of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the V.I. Police Department, Project Safe Neighbourhoods V.I. and the V.I. Department of Education. These are just some of the agencies who have come together to form the "V.I. Anti-Gang Committee."

By almost any measure, children in the U.S. Virgin Islands are worse off now than they were 10-years ago, according to "Kids Count," an annual report on the status of children in the U.S.V.I. The report draws a picture of the challenges and trends facing youths. In eight of the 12 general categories of the report, conditions are worse now than they were in 2009 and only better in two. For example, the percentage of children in single-parent households has risen from 35.6 per cent to almost 56 per cent – more than half the children in the U.S.V.I. live with only one parent.

The U.S.V.I. is just one Caribbean nation whose youth are in peril. One U.S. law enforcement officer who deals with gangs in the United States and who was recently in Barbados says that Barbadians are in denial when it comes to gangs and that they needed to accept there was indeed gang activity on the island.

The U.S. law enforcement official said lack of family support, low self-esteem, financial opportunity and peer pressure were some of the reasons young people were joining a gang. The policeman also cautioned parents to talk to their children, enrol them in wholesome activities, and monitor what they were watching on television.

Bermuda is another island suffering from gang violence within its community. The island has sought assistance from England and more than a dozen firearms officers from the former will arrive on the island shortly to help tackle the rising gang violence.

According to Bermuda Family Centre Director Peter Carey, the breakdown of core family values lies at the root of the gang violence that blights that island. He says that it will only get worse unless Bermudians are given the support and guidance they need in the home at a young age, adding that 10 per cent of the community could be in "crisis."

From his experience, he has found that young people are desperate to belong, be valued and have a purpose, and often fall into gang culture if their home life is inadequate. Carey is of the opinion that if nothing is done now, the community will raise a generation of children who will be unable to sustain a healthy society when they become adults.

Families in chronic chaos live below the normal values for social order. This results in crime and lawlessness which is clearly evident in certain parts of Jamaica as has been seen during the state of emergency this week where criminal elements have been defying law and order.

Carey says that the crisis in youth development did not happen overnight, but happened very slowly, adding that the association with gangs show that young people are desperate to belong and be valued and have a purpose.

For society to develop children need a sense of identity and a sense of worth and that comes from those around them, such as immediate family members. Carey adds that problems of youth that exist today are the result of not acting in the past. Family cultures do not get established in a couple of years, but build over generations. He says that there is unaddressed anger and trauma and it has decayed and got worse.

I do believe that Carey’s analysis of Bermuda is very much in line with what is happening on our island. Considerable investments will have to be made in the post-10-10-10 era of country status; a policy plan backed by all stakeholders as the way forward will need to be formulated by our Minister of Public Health, Social Development & Labour. Our future ministry will need the human resources and tools to be able to tackle our societal problems, and this is going to be a considerable investment but one well worth it.

With 10-10-10 on the horizon and approaching as each day goes by, as a nation we have to reflect on our generation of young people and whether they will be able to sustain a healthy Sint Maarten society in the future. After all, they only seek to belong, be valued and have a purpose.

Roddy Heyliger