Parents could be held responsible for violent acts committed by their children under a new Juvenile Justice Bill, which is scheduled to go before Parliament “in another week or two”, according to Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite.
An upsurge in school violence, including stabbings and cutlass attacks, has left the authorities scrambling to curb the problem, and the teachers’ unions crying out for protection.
Brathwaite said this morning he was banking on the introduction of the new Bill to help address violent crime, particularly among the youth.
“One of the things that I have asked the Ministry of Home Affairs to do is to bring forward our Juvenile Justice Bill so we can have it within the Parliament in another week or two,” Brathwaite told reporters on the periphery of the annual police conference at Solidarity House, Harmony Hall, St Michael.
He said the proposed legislation makes provision for parents to be held accountable “because you have to accept that there is a relationship between the behaviour that you are seeing manifested at the schools and what is happening now”.
The legal adviser said he did not believe that children were “saints” at home, but at school, they were being transformed into “well, I almost said ‘devils’, but I wouldn’t want to say that . . . but you understand the point I am making”.
Therefore, he urged the public to play its part in addressing the problem of school violence, which he said was pervasive.
“It is without doubt of grave concern to all of us. Just when we think it is not going get any worse, we hear of another stabbing and it is not even with one school. It seems to be across Barbados,” Brathwaite said.
Commissioner of Police Tyrone Griffith also expressed concern about the growing level of school violence, while he called on social agencies to assist law enforcement officers in tackling the problem.
“We already do quite a bit within the schools. I think there are other agencies that need to step up. We give leadership to a lot of the [school] programmes, but there is clearly room for social agencies to be involved and work with us to improve the situation,” Griffith told journalists.
It was only on Tuesday that three 15-year-old boys from Grantley Adams Memorial School were stabbed, and a 12-year-old girl was struck with a stone in a fight during the school’s lunch break.
One of the boys was treated and discharged while the other two were reported to be in stable condition.
Police said they were questioning two boys, a 16-year-old and a 14-year-old, in connection with the incident.
This violent incident, along with the discovery yesterday of several weapons, including a cutlass and two knives, forced the closure of the school today, after teachers announced plans to stay away from the classroom until they could hold talks with the Ministry of Education about their safety and that of their students.
The Ministry of Education later issued a release through the Barbados Government Information Service (BGIS) announcing that the school would be closed today to facilitate talks between education officials and the teachers.
Those talks will continue tomorrow, resulting in the closure of the school for a second straight day, a BGIS release stated this afternoon.
There was further violence yesterday during a primary school sports meet at Christ Church Foundation School, which ended with the arrest of two young adults, who allegedly attacked police officers on duty there, after they were ordered off the school premises for drinking alcohol and smoking.
These were the most recent of a series of incidents which have resulted in injury to students, prompting the Barbados Secondary Teachers Union (BSTU) and the Barbados Union of Teachers to repeatedly appeal to the Ronald Jones-led ministry to act urgently and decisively to bring the violence under control.
Police this morning stopped a minibus travelling to Speightstown, St Peter to conduct a search, after receiving a tip that two students carrying a knife had boarded the vehicle, according to Public Relations Officer Roland Cobbler, who did not say what, if anything, the lawmen had found.
Following today’s meeting with the ministry, and in light of this morning’s action by lawmen, BSTU President Mary Redman said the violent outbreaks “literally drive fear into teachers”.
“Teachers not only fear for themselves but they fear for the safety of their charges. How does one expect a teacher to go up against a knife to protect the students?” Redman asked, while adding that “pressure must be brought to bear all around . . . to have these things addressed. It has been going on for too long”.
The BSTU head applauded the Royal Barbados Police Force for this morning’s search, while explaining that students often hide the weapons when they arrive on the school premises, and as a result many of those weapons go undiscovered.
“Within the school context we search and yes, we do find weapons when we search, but because they know that we search, they are able to . . . be proactive,” she clarified.
“You are going to find the weapons on the bus but you are not going to find them in the children’s bags. There are so many areas in school that children can [hide] things before they come into the premises,” Redman added.
“The BSTU will do everything in its power to ensure that this issue of violence in schools is handled in the way it needs to be,” the veteran trade unionist assured.