Minister of Culture, Sport and Youth Stephen Lashley says Government is willing to entertain recent calls for a compulsory national youth service.
Speaking against the backdrop of a series of worrying violent incidents involving school children, Lashley told a ground-breaking ceremony at the proposed site for new Barbados Youth Service building at Paragon, Christ Church that frequent suggestions were now being made for the implementation of such a facility to address the current concerns.
Since the new school term began in January there have been at least three stabbing incidents involving students from Grantley Adams Memorial, St Leonard’s Boys’, Daryll Jordan and Frederick Smith secondary schools. Last November, a 17-year-old student of The Ellerslie School also lost a finger during a vicious cutlass attack which occurred on the school compound.
This has prompted Independent Member Parliament for St Peter and former Prime Minister Owen Arthur to call for “new and striking programmes”, such as a compulsory national youth service to address social disorder.
“I think the time has come and I would like to see it moved into these Estimates, where a compulsory national youth service at schools and other places will have now to be a means by which we begin to address that disorder that wants to destroy the fabric of this society.
“I am prepared to vote for it, no matter how much it costs,” Arthur told the House of Assembly.
Last March, Opposition Member of Parliament for St James North Edmund Hinkson had also called for the teaching of soft skills in schools and suggested the establishment of a mandatory youth service across Barbados.
The Barbados Labour Party shadow minister for education was at the time speaking at the launch of a training programme designed to sharpen the life skills of young men in his St James North constituency.
However, while warning that now was not the time for partisan politics, Lashley said he was surprised by the number of calls for a national youth service, after Government had attempted such a programme in 2012 but was forced to abandon it because of stiff opposition.
“In recent times there has been some clamour, discussion and calls for the establishment of a compulsory national youth service. When I heard that discussion recently I marvelled because when I took to Parliament the National Youth Policy that policy had provisioned for the establishment of a compulsory national youth service,” Lashley said, adding that “the reason why we did not follow through with that was because all across Barbados there was significant resistance.
“Indeed I heard very vociferous opposition where persons were claiming that the Government was about to infringe upon the constitutional rights of young people. I heard parents saying that. But now we have some of the same parents asking Government to embark on a compulsory national youth service,” Lashley said.
The Minister also sought to remind parents that it was their responsibility to instill discipline in their children, while stressing that organizations such as the youth service were not in existence to do their jobs.
“It is good to offer our young people second chance programmes but they are really not a replacement for what needs to happen in our homes. They are not a replacement for the important and vital role that our parents and guardians in the home need to recognize and follow through on. There has certainly been a breakdown of that vital relationship,” he said.