Several proposals have been made to the Cabinet to tackle the issue of gang-related violence among the Nation’s youth.
These suggestions came from the Ministry of Social Transformation via a short paper in which six proposals were put forward.
One recommendation is the development of appropriate legislation that will make it illegal to join or function with a gang.
According to the Ministry, there was no evidence presented to show an increased use of marijuana among young people, as many residents have speculated since limited possession and use of the drug were decriminalized.
However, another recommendation is that the abuse of substances – such as alcohol, marijuana and non-prescription drugs – by students be closely monitored.
One public servant who has been highly critical of the marijuana policy tells REAL News that Social Transformation and the Cabinet are “big hypocrites.”
She notes that, about three years ago, a regional study found that marijuana use and alcohol consumption among students – including primary pupils – were highest among Antigua and Barbuda’s youth.
Further, she recalls that Attorney-General Steadroy “Cutie” Benjamin had sought, at the time, to deny this. However, the report had been received by the ONDCP, and therefore Benjamin would have been acquainted with its contents, she charges.
The woman says that consultation with teachers and counselors would have alerted the Cabinet to the likely outcomes – including increased levels of violence – affecting students and youth, in general.
REAL News has seen the report to which the woman refers and confirms the findings to which she refers were, indeed, documented.
Meanwhile, another recommendation is that community groups be strengthened through training. Those targeted would include school officials, churches, civil society, public-health services, and criminal-justice agencies.
The other proposals to the Cabinet include: Providing support for children in conflict with the law – including residents of the Boys Training School and a similar home for troubled girls; increasing the number of probation and truancy officers; and launching a national public relations programme to encourage good behaviour among youth.
These proposals come one week after the Cabinet received a report on gang-related violence in several schools. At that time, the Executive ordered the Ministry of Social Transformation to have its experts provide some guidance on the way forward.
The Director of Education, Commissioner of Police, and Chief of Defense Staff reportedly held consultations yesterday, November 30, for the purpose of coming up with solutions to the problem.
The Cabinet has also agreed to consult with a former Defence Force soldier who reportedly has “consistently run a boys training programme that has transformed the lives and direction of boys who were going astray.” That person was not identified, however.