Crime among children is becoming a bigger problem for the justice system with juveniles –– some as young as 13 –– mimicking the illegal activities of adults and committing crimes such as assault, wounding, theft and burglary.
The concern was today expressed by Magistrate Barbara Cooke-Alleyne, who also identified as major problems, young males selling drugs in schools, along with girls running away from home for various reasons that included pursuing relationships with older males and females.
Speaking at the opening ceremony for a National Task Force On Crime Prevention-hosted workshop entitled In The Winners’ Circle –– Making The Right Choice at New Dimension Ministries, she said 13-to-15-year-old boys and girls were committing offences once seen as adult crimes.
Statistics show that offences such as theft, wounding and burglary were conducted primarily by boys, while girls were usually brought to court for offences such as wandering, accounting for over 70 per cent of such cases.
However, she pointed out that girls also faced charges of theft of cellphones and money, while boys added theft of brand-name gear to the mix.
“We have a lot of good children in Barbados, but it is a small group who come against the courts. The crimes that adults are committing and the percentages are similar to what we see with the juveniles in our court,” she said.
Drug possession is among those crimes.
“We have boys who are selling [drugs] in the schools and some of them claim that they are doing it to help their mothers at home. And, of course, when you talk to the parents they are shocked that they think they are helping them by doing this when it is just to get the brand-name gear for themselves,” she said, adding that wanting to feel “important” among their peers was another motivating factor for this criminal behaviour.
“We are quite concerned about the boys being charged with possession of drugs. We are seeing boys aged 13 to 15, and usually when they come before the court we put them on probation to give them a chance and an opportunity to change their lives, and [use] incarceration as a last resort.”
The magistrate said wandering continued to be a major problem. She said while it was an escape from something in their home life, others left their homes for more dubious reasons.
“For others it is association with an older guy or female to enter relationships such as lesbianism,” the judicial officer contended.
The magistrate contended that these problems were a reflection of what was going on in the wider society.
She urged participants of the workshop –– students from Hill Top Preparatory School and St Giles and Belmont Primary Schools –– to help turn the situation around by making wise decisions when they entered secondary school.
“It is in your power to do that. When you go to secondary school at age 11 you are now deemed a person who now knows right from wrong and you can be charged for crime.
“It is called age of criminal responsibility.
“So I am imploring you to leave here today understanding that you are now 11, you have gone on to a new ground and you can be brought before the courts. Make some good choices. You need to make sure that you find some good friends, because friends can influence you to skip school, not to go to class and walk the corridors or bathroom to start taking drugs,” Magistrate Cooke-Alleyne said.
She also supported the call for students to enroll in service clubs to build their self-esteem and make positive choices, noting that most of the juvenile offenders who came before her were not involved in any clubs and had very low self-esteem.
Meanwhile, Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite encouraged the students to choose their friends wisely, as it was one of the most serious decisions they would ever have to make in their lives.
He also called on them to pay attention to the issue of bullying which had caused much damage to several young people across the country.
“It is not something that you want to encourage,” he said.