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Who is de Advocate??

Whether school is in or not; whether early in the morning or late at night; whether rain, thunder, lightning, hail or snow (hyperbole very much intended), there are children on the streets begging or peddling or just hanging out or I guess I should say loitering. I cannot really define what I feel at this sight - anger mingles with sadness, mingles with disgust, mingles with confusion. It is also very difficult for me to situate the object of my anger as I am of the view that we all have a part to play and that society is either blind to the plight of our nation's children or it has just become numb to same.

In the face of the ever ominous global economic recession, an escalating crime rate, the GREAT, imperial IMF, and the sterling performances from our athletes in Berlin perhaps the children may be the last thing on our minds. And, perhaps they are not at all as important as the aforementioned. Especially since they are not menacing as crime is. But crime in this context is not a noun but and adjective. Let me hasten to engage.

why be concerned about these children?

Crime does not just jump out of the bushes at us. It is perpetuated by people. Living, breathing people with faces. If I were to define crime, I would show you a picture of a person; someone failed by the society. When crime is given personhood then I guess we can better describe it. That is why I call it an adjective. These children of whom I speak are the most vulnerable to crime and violence; becoming the miscreants that we (not the gunman- because he too is a victim of society) have created.
Perhaps this might be a simplistic reasoning but when our children are left misguided and on the fringes of society, having no economic power, no inculcated values and no support system, they become susceptible to those who will exploit them and use them for criminal purposes. In her book How Children Become Violent (2008) Kathryn Seifert,PhD, explains that those who commit acts of violence today are likely to have witnessed violence as children or may have been abused or neglected. In echoing James Marcia's theory, she further opines that childhood is a time when attachment with caregivers (note not necessarily parents) stimulates, among others, the formation of behaviour regulation, interpersonal skills, moral development and problem solving skills. When this is interrupted, she says, disruptive attachment patterns (DAP) may result. This means that today's neglected, psychologically unbalanced and traumatised children are likely to become tomorrow's dangers to society - that is unless there are aggressive and adequate intervention strategies.

Whose responsibility is This?

You may be quick to respond that there are agencies established to protect the rights of our children and that my agenda might be otherwise motivated. Well, you may have a point. However, the agencies that are established are certainly, in principle, that is, on paper, established to protect and ensure that the children's rights are met. But in practice, are they doing what they say?
Let us consider these facts. The Office of the Children's Advocate (OCA) which is responsible for ensuring that the rights and best interest of children are observed currently has two Investigating Officers that must serve the entire island (These two officers are charged with the resposibility of investigating situations across the length and breadth of this country where children's rights have been infringed upon). Does this reality say that our government and policy makers are in any way, shape or form serious about matters concerning our children? Certainly, it looks wonderful on paper when we consider the responsibility of the OCA (and I am sure they are well-meaning people) but how can they seriously dispense of their duties when they are clearly under staffed?
Further, the police, with whom the umbrella association, OCA, is supposed to be working closely in following up on (the parents of) children who roam the streets have abdicated their responsibility. Anecdotal evidence will confirm this. Haven't we all noticed that the police going along their merry way, while children, who should be at school or at home at late hours, are wiping windscreens or selling or begging someone "a five dollar"? Since OCA reports directly to parliament, how come I don't hear mandates for police to pick up every child found roaming the streets, find his/her parents and hold them accountable? Are we politicising even the lives of our children?
Then we have the church who is busy to speak out against casino gambling (as if it really is a moral issue) and the viewing of the movie, Brokeback Mountain, in our nation's cinemas but silent about the plight of our children. The church seems to need wresting from its malaise. Where is the collective voice on real issues of concern? When a child can be abducted from a church building by armed men during a church function and the church did not publicly condemn the action neither have they collectively pledged support of law enforcers in protecting our children then it is fair to say that the church has lost its conscience along with its right to comment on any matter with regards to the state (perhaps a harsh statement but very much justifiable). That the sermons preached in our churches, hardly, are concerned with injustice and crimes against humanity (such as the plight of our children) is telling about the lack of awareness and concern that exists within the church for our society. What then is the purpose of the message of salvation? For years the church has been trying to get "saved", a society from which it is almost completely detached - what dissonance!
Every agent of socialisation, every individual, has a part to play. We cannot continue in this slumber or else together we shall fall into a ditch. We cannot continue to wind up our glasses and ignore those children who ply their trade on our streets. We cannot continue to allow the problem to fester by keeping them on the streets when we give them money either. This situation demands a social response that is remedial, yes, but it must also be proactive. So while we must report matters to the police/parliamentary representatives/CDA and the like (with the hope that they will do what they were commissioned to do), we must also have interventions that will reform the children's already psychologically unbalanced minds as well as social programmes (not necessarily government initiatives) that will prevent our children from seeing the streets as their only option.

Will it Work?

I have been partnering with an organisation known as RYE (Reaching Youth through Evangelism) for a couple of years now. It was founded by a fellow seminarian and was birthed as a response to the needs of our children in financially repressed communities, otherwise known as inner-cities or ghettos. RYE's concept of evangelism has been structured to include relationship building, mentoring, meeting material needs (whenever we can), providing social activities for the youth, along with sharing the message of God's unconditional love, absolute acceptance and unrelenting pursuit for relationship with "imperfect" mankind. At the heart of all of this is a deep respect for humanity (one does not need to be a Christian to appreciate this).
As part of its strategies in transforming lives, RYE hosts an annual summer camp for the duration of one week in which children from five (5) to nineteen (19) years old are developed holistically. They are trained in craft making, social graces/etiquette, entrepreneurial skills and there are counselors to help get them through many of their emotional issues.
Perhaps the most crucial aspect of RYE's programme is its follow up component. As much and often as possible we try to stay in contact with and visit our youth. We have realised tremendous transformation. Many who would have otherwise become engaged have been supported in school (with regards to tuition and mentoring) and have returned to our camps as peer counselors and staff at our camps. However, we are only able to do so much and it is only because of our financial constraints. The sacrifice is worth it. The love for humanity and the state of our country compel us so to do.

Recommendations

Perhaps we are unable to tame the beast called crime because, to us, it is still an abstract noun; we cannot put a face to it. Perhaps we are unable to arrest the problem of violence because we are too reactive. Maybe the millions that go toward paying lawyers and consultants to draft policies can be used to actually do something; implementing projects that can go toward developing children. Maybe the large haul that is made in the offering plates and subsequently stored away in the cold vaults of some financial institutions for the purpose of building some monstrosities (of a building) we call church, can actually be used for some feeding programmes or back to school programmes for our children. Maybe then they will be around to attend the churches we are building instead of in the grave, the jail or the hospital. Maybe instead of using 50 million dollars to repair the minister's dwelling place so that he does not live in squalor, the government can actually try to repair and/or build better children's homes so that some children can in fact have somewhere to live (Amardale is a case in point). Maybe all the lobbyists/advocates out there (including myself and Betty-Ann...lol), instead of waiting for something to happen before we start to make noise and call for action, can actually come together and make a petition for police to be mandated to take actions against negligent parents and police and maybe even some parliamentary representatives for having our children roaming the streets. Maybe instead of increasing cabinet size, government could have used that money to attach truancy officers to schools to ensure that children are at school and the parents who do not send their children to school are held accountable by the state. Just maybe. But since I am not the repository of all knowledge, maybe you can share your solutions with me.





Comments

  1. The good thing is that you are reflecting on the issue and posing some good questions. You do not need to know the answers, nor do I. It is more important that we get people talking that we can attempt proactive solutions, and attempt others if those do not work.

    ReplyDelete
  2. quite a number of questions Marcus, i hope ans will follow.Not that i think i av any. U made an interesting point about the understaffed oca no to mention the cda and other such institutions. I hope the right persons can give hear to these writings.

    God help us

    ReplyDelete
  3. Well, I crave answers but I am also optimistic that those who read will be provoked to play their part. People like You, Uncle David and me... (a proactive more than reactive response mi a talk 'bout)

    ReplyDelete

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