Myrna Bernard Speaks on Youths & Gangs in the Caribbean

REMARKS DELIVERED BY MS MYRNA BERNARD, OFFICER-IN-CHARGE, DIRECTORATE OF THE HUMAN AND SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT, AT THE OPENING OF THE WORKSHOP ON IMPLEMENTATION OF PREVENTION STRATEGIES AND ACTIONS TO ADDRESS YOUTH GANGS AND VIOLENCE. GRAND COASTAL HOTEL, GUYANA. 5-8 FEBRUARY 2013
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The Workshop is one of the follow-up activities identified under the CARICOM Youth Gangs and Violence: Partnering for Prevention and Social Development Project being piloted in Guyana and four other CARICOM Member States.

Myrna Bernard -2In recent times, we have become acutely aware of the alarming escalation of violence in the entire Caribbean. The increasingly disturbing trend of the involvement of our youth as both victims and perpetrators of violent crimes must give us reason to pause and to search for answers which will hopefully guide us to solutions.  In the Member States of our Community newspaper headlines scream this reality at us. The number of school age teenagers incarcerated for murder must be at an all time high.

In 2005, the Caribbean Commission on Health and Development flagged violence and injuries as one of the three issues with significant implications for development if not specifically addressed. Since then the prevalence of violence and injuries in CARICOM Member States has escalated such that it has become not only a public health problem, it has also become a priority regional security and development issue. Of specific concern are issues of organized crime and street gangs and small arms trafficking.

According to the UNDP 2012 Caribbean Human Development Report 2012, titled: Human Development and the Shift to Better Citizen Security:

‘Organized crime and gangs are the source of major lethal violence in the region. Youth are inherently vulnerable in the Caribbean development process. Youth violence is an important challenge, particularly in the form of street gangs, contributing to popular perceptions of increasing insecurity.

That Report goes on to highlight the following findings of their research with regard to the ‘Who and Why’ of Gangs in the Caribbean

Who?

‘We know little about the socio-demographic characteristics of street gang members in the Caribbean. Preliminary evidence on Jamaica and on Trinidad and Tobago indicates that, among school-aged youth, the majority of street gang members are male; however, female gang membership is also prevalent.’

‘This same body of research suggests that individuals join street gangs at a young age. In Trinidad and Tobago, school-aged youth who self-reported gang membership stated that, on average, they had first become involved with their gangs when they were 12 years old. Surveys of school officials in Antigua and Barbuda have indicated that most gang members are between the ages of 12 and 15 years. These preliminary findings together imply that the street gang problem is largely confined to young marginalized males. School-based gang prevention efforts should therefore begin early in life to inoculate youth from gang membership’.

Why? 

‘There is almost no Caribbean-based empirical research examining why youth join street gangs. One of the few studies to examine the issue collected self-reported data from almost 2,300 school-aged youth in Trinidad and Tobago. The study found that most youth joined for reasons of friendship (42 percent) and protection or safety (29.4 percent). The remaining joined because a family member was in a gang (5.9 percent), to make money (8 percent), or for other reasons (14.7 percent).

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Source: Caricom.org

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