We are taught that it takes a village to raise a child but in the same breath we are told that children are to be seen and not heard. So what happens when the entire village sees that child growing, close to their hearts, intricately woven into the fabric of their community but remote enough that no one hears the silent screams of a child neglected, an adolescent abused, a young one suffering? Well let me tell you the story.
Amidst the tragic occurrences surrounding the death of 12 year old Shemar Weekes our island has over the past few weeks been cast with a grey cloud. A collective state of pity, anguish and disturbia while failing to recognise that the stories filtering through the grapevines are stories of his life such as abuse, a troubled childhood and having to grow up quickly. These are not unique to him alone. Whether these stories are true or just exaggerations of occurrences aimed at soliciting responses from the Barbadian Public, Shemar is just the face of many of our young people island wide.
As a nation, we continue to trivialise mental health illnesses, child abuse and neglect, which have been cultivated within our society over time and continue to cause our children to suffer. Our nonchalance to the plight of our youth is reflected in our socialisation, our educational system and even through our laws.
A poor juvenile justice system which admittedly does not embrace the why factor as proposed by known criminologist Mannehinn and Sellin nor does it provide opportunities for rehabilitation is continuously railing out youth and raising a generation of criminals. We fail to truly listen to the voices of our young people, not inquiring why our girls are running away and why our boys end up on the blocks. We return young runaways to their ‘adolescent hells’ under the guise of legislation which is almost a century old. In total agreement with the Attorney General of Barbados Mr. Adriel Brathwaite in a recent address, our young people are most often running from something and not to something and we fail to question why they left in the first place.
Our educational system continuously reinforces this paradigm of victimisation of our children and adolescents. Guidance counsellors and guidance lessons do not really guide and are in fact prematurely ended when they are most needed in our schools. We also see a deficit of psychologists and psychiatrists working in our school systems who specialise in child and adolescent behaviour and development. Instead guidance lessons are imparted to students by teachers who possess passions and academic accomplishments in other areas but fill a void in the curriculum while towing the line to ensure that they preserve their pay checks in this “rough” economic climate. As a result, our next generation suffers and deteriorates, isolated into their shells of despair.
No longer do we have a village community but are instead composed of shut down windows and closed doors. Some parents through their actions and words encourage their children being isolated, with nowhere to turn, to follow the wrong path. All Barbadians have a role to play through peer helpers rather than peer pressure, and the concept of paying attention and listening earnestly to our friends and family is what counts. So tell us, citizens of Barbados; is it not time to wake up??? We must not forget as we usually do. Let us take action NOW!!!