Barbadian culture actively promotes the participation of children in Kiddies Kadooment. From a tender age, young children can don costumes and parade at the stadium, as part of the annual Crop Over season, in front of patrons, dancing and wukking up if they so choose. In addition, this culture promotes a Junior Monarch calypso competition which enables children from a very young age to sing on a stage in front of an audience.
These songs can range from social commentary to political satire. In fact, last year’s Junior Monarch in the eight to 12 year old category was an eight-year old who was victorious with the song Go Away Recession. The song, which reportedly captivated the audience, was a child’s perspective on how the economic recession was affecting her way of life.
As I researched this information, I came across a picture of a beaming Minister of Culture, Sports and Youth proudly presenting the winner’s trophy to that eight-year old.
I have said all of the above because I am at a total loss as to why certain Members of Parliament and Ministers of Government, during the recent Estimates debate, would choose to castigate a young 13-year-old who took to a stage in the company of his father and mother and so eloquently and effectively delivered his own message and his own perspective on how his life was being affected.
It wasn’t a Junior Calypso Monarch competition nor was it a NIFCA event where, alternatively, creative expression is rewarded if the participant is appealing and the judges approve. It was a rally where, following a march of protest, several persons of varying backgrounds took to the stage to voice their own opinions and concerns. In the ‘judging’ by the many present at the event, this young 13 year old captivated and won the attention of those in attendance.
How can anyone in their right mind equate such a positive action with sexual exploitation? How can anyone in a position of authority seek to even consider reporting this matter to the Child Care Board? How can anyone in an esteemed position, having parliamentary privileges, even begin to suggest that picking up bottles should be the pursuit of a 13-year-old? I am aghast at what came out of the Estimates in relation to this young man who passionately and eloquently spoke at the march.
I recognize that hundreds of Barbadians are equally horrified. If the comments on social media, in the press and on the call-in programmes are anything to go by, then clearly the vast majority of Barbadians do not, by any stretch of the imagination, find favour with such sentiments that spewed forth from these parliamentarians on the Government side.
In the scheme of politics, one would expect that political parties would castigate each other. It is often said all is fair game in the world of politics. What cannot be fair game, however, is the outright and forthright dismissal of young people in our society who seek to make a positive contribution to the development of this country regardless of what political affiliation they or their families may or may not hold.
Our society is facing several challenges related to our young people. Almost daily, we witness via social media the horrifying videos of young boys and girls either in violent confrontations or involved in sexual activities. It is heart-wrenching to know that our young people and parents are today having to deal with such behaviours and occurrences.
Child advocate, Faith Marshall-Harris, a few months ago, basically called for a revolutionary change in the culture and way we view and treat children in our society. This is a call that must reverberate throughout our society. We must have a culture that embraces children. A culture that enhances all that is positive and actively seek to get rid of all that is negative.
There are many positive examples in our society of youth empowerment and opportunities for young people to use their talent and energy to further develop themselves and Barbados. We should never dismiss young people who strive positively to set a good example that even adults can emulate.
I applaud all those institutions and persons who uplift young people and give them opportunities to express themselves and prove their worth and resourcefulness. How can we as a society feel alright with ourselves to only criticize and lament when young people engage in careless behaviour but cannot commend and congratulate when they do good?
The cry in recent years is that young people are not interested in politics. How do we get them engaged? Do we wait until they are 18 or 20 or even 25 to get them engaged? We engage them from young if they are so inclined. We give them opportunities. The contributions of some of our outstanding political heroes did not happen overnight. In most cases, their political life started at a young age and blossomed as they grew older. Our country was the better off for it.
Why do we have a Youth Parliament? Isn’t it for the very reason to get young people involved in the political process? Isn’t it to get them motivated to see politics as a viable option in their careers? Why do political parties have youth arms? Again, as I did research for this article, I visited the websites of the two major political parties to find out their positions on youth in the political process of this nation.
On the DLP website, I found the following:
“THE youth of any society are indeed the future of that society, thus it is imperative that the young men and women of Barbados see themselves as able-bodied members of this country, capable of contributing to its sustained growth and development. It is only through the adoption of this mentality by the youth that the preservation and advancement of Barbadian society can be ensured.
“Indeed, the generations that have come and gone before, particularly those in the pre-independence period of this nation, must have realized the stark reality that it was up to them to mould Barbadian society in their own likeness and image. One young person in this pre-independence period who certainly realized this and stepped up to the task at hand was The Rt. Excellent Errol Barrow.
“Realizing the problems facing the country, Mr. Barrow can be seen from an early age to have made it his mandate to improve the lives of ordinary Barbadians. As such, despite the passing of time, he remains as ever an exemplary role model for all young persons within Barbados to look to for inspiration.”
And from the BLP’s Youth arm:
“To make young people more aware of political issues and its importance to their lives.
“To create a nurturing environment for the emergence of future leaders.
“To project the policy of the Barbados Labour Party.
To educate and enlighten the youth of Barbados in the philosophies, policies and ideas of the Barbados Labour Party, whether in Government or in Opposition.
“To give support to the Barbados Labour Party.
“To become involved within the community to assist in social transformation.”
If our two major political parties or any other political party for that matter, through their offerings, see youth as an integral part of the future of Barbados, then we certainly cannot afford to have politicians castigating young men and women and threatening them when they step up to the plate and deliver their perspective.
(Suleiman Bulbulia is a Justice of the Peace, Secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association and Muslim Chaplain at the Cave Hill Campus, UWI. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)