With heightened social upheaval rampant on the island these days, it is important that the society lay down a solid foundation for the youth of this country to harness and progress in life.
Short steps toward that ultimate goal should be a strategy employed in the build up towards a fuller, more fruitful, worthwhile and rewarding future.
It is therefore essential that we ‘take the bull by the horns’, so to speak, and nip the ‘bad roots’ in the bud in an effort to bring about a certain level of social equilibrium in the country.
The situation at the island’s major youth juvenile centre – the Boys Training Centre (BTC), at Massade, Gros Islet leaves much to be desired and is a cause for concern due to the nature of events that has unfolded over the past months and the dire state of bewilderment that has been experienced.
Lately, at least four to five wards had made their escape from the BTC compound, which in essence, reportedly caters for a total of about 14 boys.
Following the festive season and fresh into the year as the country gravitated more into business mode, the distressing news came through on a Friday evening, early January, that a 15-year-old ward from the BTC had been arrested on suspicion for causing the stabbing death of an elderly female resident in Gros Islet.
While admitting that her son has been delinquent and needed some level of counselling, the teenager’s mother said she expected more from the BTC personnel, which the state had mandated to care for the rehabilitation of her son.
She questioned the ability of the security officers placed at the institution to not only keep the wards safe, but also to prevent them from venturing out without permission or unsupervised.
She asks where the security guard “at the time my son left the facility to go and commit that crime, why they didn’t they realize he was missing?”
In response to this latest issue, Minister for Equity and Social Justice Joachim Henry, called for an urgent review into the operations of the BTC. He said there is need for a complete overhaul and assessment of the persons working at the facility, relating to their capabilities and performance on the job.
Taking into context the severity of this matter, the minister declined laying blame or pointing fingers at anyone, in particular. Rather, he said, the authorities would wait for the investigations to unfurl before making any determination on this issue.
One of the priority areas coming under review, will be an examination of the facility’s security network and to determine how can such an essential service be upgraded and enhanced for the safety of the wards and the wider public, generally.
In the aftermath of this latest incident, the authorities have been left with no other option but to remand the teenager in custody at the island’s maximum security facility, the Bordelais Correctional Facility (BCF).
The BTC has come under fire from sections of the public who blame poor security for the ward’s escape.
This issue of juvenile delinquency has again triggered the need for a proper juvenile detention center, on island.
In the wake of the incident, the Equity Minister met with the staff and management of the BTC and is currently looking at measures to address the issues there in the medium to long term.
“Our long-term intervention is really formatting the juvenile center,” he said, adding that the Cabinet of Ministers has given approval to use the former George Charles Secondary School for that purpose.
Minister Joaquin Henry says issues of staffing and security which once plagued the institution will be addressed once and for all.
“Not to police the young men but to ensure the safety of the young men as well as the community where the Boys Training Center is placed,” he noted.
It was therefore heartening that the minister took time to personally visit the BTC and interact ‘one-on-one’ with the wards; as the minister is currently battling against an illness with support from family, ministerial colleagues and well-wishers for a speedy recovery.
This says a lot about the disposition of the equity minister and coveys a commendable gesture to the rest of society on the characteristics of morals and values in the community, towards the overall ‘scheme of things’.
It is therefore incumbent on other ministry personnel to ‘piggy back’ on the initiative undertaken by the minister in looking to restore a sense of direction and purpose for the BTC wards
Prior to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, in 2020, it is worth noting that some members of civil society had been involved in some mentorship programmes and social intervention on behalf of the youngsters. Groups such as the ‘Big Brother’ movement from FLOW, RISE St Lucia and other such originations, to name a few, had voluntarily come forward to assist the youth, in an effort to make their stay at the institution homelier, friendly and sportively oriented and to instil a sense of pride and well-being in the wards.
Also, football coach Alvin Xavier has been doing a remarkable job in taking the youths under his care and helping them use the sport as a challenge to get ahead past their respective difficulties. The sight of Xavier training with the guys on the BTC field was quite encouraging and showed hope and promise that these youngsters can be able to transform their lives into becoming someone involved in something more meaningful and worthwhile.
The seeds that we plant today can bear fruits for the future, but if not properly tended too, they may wither and fade away.
There is much distraction, corruption and discord that can easily turn a young kid the other way, and yes, it is much harder to keep them on an upright path.
Yet, despite all of the shortcomings, some of the loopholes that exist in the country’s social welfare need to be addressed.
For starters, does the state, through the relevant authorities, keep a track record on ‘school dropouts’ be it from the secondary or elementary grade level?
Can it not be more prudent for the island’s social welfare officers, education officers and members from the police force’s community relations branch or other relevant department liaise with each other, and identify and monitor the actions and behaviour patterns of the would-be trouble makers and delinquents in the midst?
We live in a small developing country with a population of 180, 000 plus, less than 200, 000 in this Saint Lucian community; and the misgivings of the few must not be left to overshadow the hard work, toil and sweat of many more working diligently towards making this country a progressive and productive land.