The suspected suicide of 12-year-old Shamar Weekes, occurring in the midst of the annual observance of Child Month, has sent shockwaves through the nation. To the best of our knowledge, a tragedy of this kind in Barbados is unprecedented, at least in living memory.
As expected, it has left Barbadians painfully wondering what could have driven this lad, still in the prime of childhood innocence, to take such drastic action.
The Child Care Board, the statutory agency with responsibility for promoting the welfare of our nation’s children, promptly responded by announcing it had launched an investigation to determine the circumstances that had led to this tragedy. Preliminary findings have turned up no reported evidence establishing a link to abuse.
Naturally, we expect the authorities will continue their probe for a plausible explanation. Whatever was the exact cause, we may never know. Only Shamar knew for sure, and will take this vital information with him to the grave.
However, the tragic circumstances of his passing do serve to bring into sharp focus the complex life-related challenges facing our children, many of whom, going by behaviours they exhibit, are finding it hard to cope, especially in the absence of effective parental guidance and support.
In a recent Editorial ahead of this tragedy, we made an appeal to adults to focus more on demonstrating caring and compassion for our young people, instead of rushing to condemn them as “no good” as so many adults seem inclined to do. Overly criticizing our young people does not provide a solution to the problem. If anything, it only contributes to making the matters worse.
Children are always a reflection of grown-ups, because they learn in so many ways by mimicking adult behaviour.
Against the backdrop of this unfortunate tragedy, we today are renewing our call for caring and compassion in the hope of rescuing other young people who may feel as if they have been pushed to the brink, and are contemplating giving up on life because they believe nobody cares. The truth is that many of our young people feel unloved and uncared for.
Their postings on social media sometimes speak to the pain that is hidden on the inside, but which any sensitive person can readily pick up.
Adults who indulge in harsh criticism of our young people cannot compare the environment in which they grew up with that which exists today. The two are fundamentally different. The adults of today grew up in a largely sheltered environment and were not exposed to the many “temptations” which young people face today.
It is ironic that some of these said “temptations” are provided by adults. Illegal drugs represent a good example. Also the sexual exploitation of young girls lured by money.
Adults can make a meaningful difference in the lives of children by taking time to engage them in wholesome conversation, exploring what is happening in their lives, especially if they are parents, and helping them to sort through the many mixed messages they are receiving, that are making them confused as to what is expected of them in life –– particularly if they have to sort through the maze themselves without parental guidance.
The act of taking one’s life is rarely a sudden decision. Persons who have done so often gave clues that something was wrong in the period leading up to the act. In a sense, these clues and warnings are a silent cry for help. It is instructive that a teenaged neighbour recalled that Shamar, despite being a jovial fellow who would love to tell jokes that made his friends laugh, had threatened on several occasions in the past that “he would hurt himself”. She said she never believed him.
Clearly, Shamar was going through some kind of inner turmoil that professional intervention might have helped him to resolve. Parents and friends cannot be blamed, because, in many instances, they are not perceptive enough or have not been trained to recognize the danger signs.
Coming out of this tragedy, we hope there will be a review of state-provided psychological counselling and other services geared towards our young people, with a view to improving and making them more effective.
It is also important, going forward, that emphasis be placed on equipping parents, guardians and teachers who have the most contact daily with children, with the skills to recognize when things are going wrong, so they would be in a position to seek professional intervention if they are unable, on their own, to help the child to come to an understanding of what he or she is experiencing and agree on a workable solution.
We can honour Shamar’s name and memory by taking steps to ensure that other children do not suffer whatever it is he had to go through.