Religious leaders across the country are facing major challenges in their efforts to address potential criminal behaviour among young people.
One such leader is national youth activist Imran Richards who does preventive work in schools for Crime Stoppers Barbados and a mentoring and empowerment programme at Her Majesty’s Prison Dodds, St Philip.
Richards said while they were making some headway with efforts at bringing about behavioural change, they were nevertheless being stymied by relatives of some of these same juveniles.
“So when we go into a session we are not just fighting an uphill battle against the mindset of these young people, but we are fighting an uphill battle against the mindset of their parents and the culture of their families,” Richards, a youth leader at the Fairy Valley Wesleyan Holiness Church, told Barbados TODAY.
The dynamic young preacher explained that he and his fellow ministers are confronted with children whose parents have instilled in them, that they must retaliate if anyone hits them.
“Many young people are convinced that fighting solves problems. They are convinced that if they retaliate with violence that the person will realize that they are not weak. The mindset is rooted largely in insecurity…because if they do not respond to bullying or if somebody says something, they would lose face, look soft and that kind of thing,” he pointed out.
“Family members are encouraging young people when they go to school or go about their lives, not to allow anybody to unfair them. So students usually respond…’my mother tell me don’t let anybody unfair me; so if somebody hit me at school, I am not tekking it,’” the youth activist added.
Richards said they also have to battle against the negative effects of the music that youths listen to.
“The music that they listen to is having a significant impact on their mindset related to violence and crime, because it glamourizes and glorifies crime and conveys being able to give you a bit of fast money,” Richards told Barbados TODAY.
He drew attention to research conducted by the Criminal Justice and Research Unit in the Home Affairs Ministry which showed that the majority of inmates at Dodds came from 10 secondary schools in Barbados.
But while Richards was not in a position to name the schools, Barbados TODAYwas reliably informed that the school at the top of the list was located on the outskirts of the City.
“And so we are seeing this trend that where there is poverty; where there is lack of education, we are seeing an increase in violent activity, violent behaviour and mindsets…not that it isn’t prevalent at some of the other schools, but that it is least prevalent as compared to these other schools,” he contended.
The youth activist, therefore, suggested that with this data available, the interventions should now be more targeted.
“Our interventions should be targeted as a result of knowing that there are 10 secondary schools where students are more at risk and more likely to contravene the law than others. Maybe we should be focusing a lot of our attention there. But that doesn’t happen in terms of a national intervention,” he said.
He told Barbados TODAY that the programme which is conducted in the secondary schools on behalf of Crime Stoppers Barbados involves workshops on anger and conflict management that bring awareness to the issues related to disputes while empowering the students to made good choices.
“So we help them to understand the consequences of their choices…that whenever they chose to respond with violence to a particular conflict or they respond out of anger in a way that seeks either to vilify somebody verbally or to harm them physically, that they put their future and their lives at risk,” Richards explained.
He said his team had so far conducted sessions in 20 secondary schools.
“We have seen so far out of this programme that the engagement is extremely high while the young people are in the classroom. They are fully aware of the consequences of their choices; they know that dealing with issues of conflict could potentially bring harm to their families, as something can move from a fight to a war,” the national youth activist stated.
However, he said the challenge was that because of the “voice of the culture is so loud,” a few short sessions per week was not enough to effect real behavioural change.
Turning his attention to the outreach in the prison, which targets 20 young offenders at a time, Richards said leadership development and sports were the main tools used to connect with these inmates.
“And what we are seeing is really confirmation of what we are experiencing on the outside. A lot of these young people are not thinking through the consequences of their choices and are following the wrong company,” he noted.
The youth minister contended that fatherlessness was a major factor to blame. According to him many of the young men with whom he interacted in prison, either grew up in broken homes or in environments where their fathers were not present.