YOUTH crime and juvenile delinquency are part of a multifaceted issue often incubated in dysfunctional households and communities.
This is according to the Co-ordinator of the Guyana Help and Shelter, Colin Marks, who recently spoke to the Guyana Chronicle about criminality among juveniles and youths.
According to statistics from the Guyana Police Force, 1,322 juveniles were charged and placed before the courts between 2011 and 2020.
Juvenile delinquency is the act of committing a crime at a very young age, particularly a teenager under the age of eighteen.
The Help and Shelter official explained that youths and teenagers who are unsupervised and unengaged for a prolonged period eventually fall prey to delinquency.
“There are not enough engagements that pander to their interests and their exuberance especially in their teenage years where youths are now discovering themselves. We have to find ways to keep our youths engaged in things that they are interested in and mandate recreational and educational activities,” Marks emphasised.
Additionally, Marks said some youths also look at crime as an enterprise as they see it as an avenue to earn wealth instead of choosing a career or path that will develop and enhance society in a legal and positive manner.
“Youths need things that will spark their interests, they need nutrition as they will be less angry and combative when their stomachs are filled,” he said.
He explained that when many children are acting out of the ordinary in school, their community, household and parenting may be responsible.
Communities with serious issues of unemployment, he said, also have major issues of truancy, delinquency, and criminality while police are also outnumbered in their mandate to maintain law and order.
“I don’t think COVID-19 has done anything good for us, because it has made all communities even more unsafe and, in some cases, dysfunctional,” he added.
Meanwhile, University of Guyana (UG) Lecturer and Psychologist, Wil Campbell, noted that the sad reality is that the average age of perpetrators of street-level crime globally is 14-25.
Campbell explained that the majority of persons in this age range live in urban or otherwise highly populated areas where opportunities and even support systems (gangs) for criminal behaviour can be found.
He also noted that these young people often live in poverty and they perceive crime as a way to solve their problems.
Further, he explained to this publication that many programmes do not address the holistic development of the target population so psycho-emotional needs are left unaddressed.
“That’s why we have so many talented youths, who benefit from great sports programmes for example, but never get very far because of unresolved behavioural challenges,” he added.
Campbell noted that there is the issue of inadequate, if not non-existent parenting, as many parents come from backgrounds where trauma and family dysfunction are normal.
Such parents, he explained, often have nothing better to offer their own children so the cycle is repeated.
Some parents, he noted, are so engrossed in providing for their children’s material needs that no time or energy is left to form meaningful and very necessary parent-child relationships.
He expounded: “We are often so consumed with a product that we neglect process and we pass this value on to our children. By this I mean we want our children to have things but we never teach them that there is a process of necessary effort involved in achieving and acquiring. Such children become frustrated when the real world does not offer success on a platter the way they think it should. So what do they do? They go out and hustle and hustle by definition involves minimum investment of time and effort and instant maximum returns.”
Further, Campbell said the youth/crime correlation arises out of a very complex mixture of causative factors, and as such, the solutions cannot be simple.
Noting that any approach to tackling this issue must be both holistic and multifaceted, he said it must take into consideration the social environment at micro and macro levels.
Therefore, he added that issues like poverty, lack of education, and deficiencies in social services must be properly addressed.
“Support for families must be addressed. Special facilities and programmes that compensate for shortfalls in the home environment must be provided. Programmes geared at behavioural reform and rehabilitation are needed. National pride and a sense of personal and social responsibility must be inculcated,” the psychologist said.
This, he said, will help move families and communities from existing in a perpetual survival mode to a more purpose-driven state of being.
All of this, he explained must be designed and implemented by a multidisciplinary team of experts collaborating to provide solutions tailored to the specific needs of target populations and communities.
“A disjointed, inadequately resourced and inexpertly executed effort will not succeed,” he highlighted.
FAMILY IS CRITICAL
Sociologist and Pastor, Patricia Sheerattan-Bisnauth, said a family is the first crucial group in the life of the child as it nurtures a child’s social and personal growth.
Underscoring that within the family lies tremendous forces for producing or presenting anti-social behaviour, Sheerattan-Bisnauth explained that this is because it has exclusive contact with the child during the period of dependency.
She explained that when a family is rejecting or neglectful the child learns distrust, hostility, or hatred of people.
Many times in broken homes such emotions are caused by death, desertion, or divorce/separation of parents, the negative impact is felt on the children who tend to find it difficult to conform to social rules.
Sheerattan-Bisnauth, who is also the Regional Head of the Caribbean Family Planning Affiliation Ltd (CFPA) which covers 12 islands in the Caribbean, noted that many studies have pointed to the high incidence of structural breaks in the family backgrounds of delinquent youths.
In disharmonious families, she said children are often pushed from home because of disturbances. They seek outside contacts for resolving feelings of insecurity and frustration.
As such, she explained that the child becomes aware of the basic values of their society and adopts those characteristics.
Each family training, it was noted, influences strongly the implantation of these values. The child must learn which action is permitted or prohibited.
Further, the sociologist noted that poverty in the family is also a contributory factor to crime. However, most of those who commit the offence was not driven by hunger, rather by envy and ambition that stimulate petty crimes in the same way that greed urges on adult criminals.
She added that conditions of affluence are no sure guarantee against violations of the law by youths.
Because of poverty and poor circumstances, she explained that the options for some children are severely limited. In families larger than the average with little living space and inadequate facilities, children are driven to seek their recreations on the streets.
Emphasising that parents in poor and strenuous situations take little or no interest in their children, it was explained that when there is little money within the family to provide for the minimum basic necessities of food, clothing and education, it imposes extraordinary strains on the family.
It was also noted that the proper nourishment of a child’s mind is very important and there is growing concern that the mass media have also become a source of unhealthy influence, particularly on children.
“There needs to be a national strategy with all stakeholders; results are needed,” she said before adding, “We also need men to commit to spending time with at-risk young men to guide them in the positive aspects of manhood.”
The sociologist recommended that a model similar to national service with new agenda, policies opportunities and directives to assist at-risk youths can be created to teach them life skills and how to be productive members of society.
She said, too, that the social safety net offered must be focused since many youths fall through without being caught.