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Regional Leaders address youth violence on day one of Regional Symposium

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by Kevon Browne

St. Kitts and Nevis (WINN): The Regional Symposium on “Violence as a Public Health Issue – The Crime Challenge” in  Trinidad and Tobago began on April 17 and is expected to end on April 18, 2023.

CARICOM heads, through discussions, aim to address growing violence in the region at the two-day symposium.

While the symposium was on crime, Prime Minister of St. Lucia, Hon Phillip J Pierre, said the issue was different according to a 2017 Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) study.

“An IADB report stated that CARICOM does not have a crime problem. It has a violence problem. While the study stated that gangs are greatly responsible for crime and violence in the Caribbean, it went on to say that violence is believed to begin in the home. The authors of the report were surprised by the magnitude of violence in the region and pointed out that this helped to perpetuate the problem. The report asserted that Caribbean governments had not found the right balance between prevention and control of violence and urge them to replicate successful violent prevention programs from other countries.” –  Prime Minister of St. Lucia, Hon Phillip J Pierre, on day one of the symposium.

Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis, Hon. Dr Terrance Drew, presented at the symposium, where he focused on violence among youth.

“St. Kitts and Nevis accepts this formula; gangs plus guns plus drugs = a key driver of our gang violence issue. By the early 1990s, we witnessed young adults – high school students – organise the transnational traffic of drugs. The groups of brothers and sisters became deadly territorial as they protected their turfs with imported guns, such is the influence that by 2018 we saw some primary school children who were gang members rather than being constructively engaged in organised arts, culture and sports.”

What factors contribute to young people’s indoctrination into “gang life”?

Dr. Drew said the influence starts from early childhood experience that leads to young people being more susceptible to contributing to violence in the community.

“What push-pull factors caused some children to be ensnared by a sub-culture of mental and physical violence? Why are they not, some of them being inspired to be CARIFTA Games participants? Why this seemingly overpowering appeal of get rich quick or die trying? I am advised that the habits of thought or the thought model is operative. It speaks to chronic, toxic, early childhood experiences that erode mental resilience. So much so that by our before mid-adolescence, violent behaviour spills out of the homes and onto the streets as a disease.”

Prime Minister Drew likened violence to how a virus spreads and infects people.

“In youth violence, the agent is chronic exposure to especially family-based toxicity. The primary hosts are children. Enablers are the determinants of injustice, inequity and ill-health, including easy access to guns that we do not produce here in the Caribbean.”

What is the fix for the violence issue?

According to Dr. Drew’s analogy, you treat the issue the same way you treat a virus.

“The pressing leadership task is to resource and apply best practice interventions. In that regard, the work of Dr. Gary Slotkin, World Health Organisation and others is instructive. Three primary intervention fronts are recommended… one – interrupt the transmission; two – prevent further spread among the exposed; and three – change societal behaviour norms. In one way or the other, we heard all three this morning, and that is why I say I’m optimistic.”

Listen to Prime Minister Drew’s full presentation here:

https://soundcloud.com/winn-fm-989/prime-minister-dr-terrence-drew-at-regional-violence-symposium-april17?si=3a5bba1202714171a85a1dfd5b01f86c&utm_source=clipboard&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=social_sharing

 

During a roundtable discussion with the CARICOM heads of Government, the two youngest Prime Ministers were asked about social media’s impact on the perpetual spread of violence.

Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis, Hon. Dr. Terrance Drew, expressed the analogy of violence transmitting like a virus and social media being a conduit for its spread.

“Social media can become an excellent conduit to transmit violence, and people are using it. People learn different tactics [and] ideas. How do you use social media to gather information? How do you use social media to reach those who are susceptible? Because here you have an agent, which is violence, and those who are the repository of violence; here you have susceptible persons in the community for different reasons, family problems, [and] trauma when they’re young, and all you need now is to transmit the agent, which is the violence, to the susceptible and social media is giving you a great medium in which to transmit violence from here to overhear to the susceptibles who are probably using the phone or tablet on Facebook and so forth.”

Prime Minister of Grenada, Hon. Dickon Michell, advocated for young people leading the discussion, movements and part of the decision-making to have the most impact in curbing the indoctrination of youth in violence.

“We talking to them suggests, which is understandable, being the traditional problem of we know what’s better, or we know what’s best for them. And I think as much as social media could, in a sense, be viral for negative things, it could certainly be just as viral for positive things. And to me, fundamentally, the problem we have is the problem first of violence before we get to crime because we tolerate a lot of violence that sometimes is, in fact, crimes – and I’ll give you a good example domestic violence.”

Mitchell suggested that the culture around certain types of violence also lends itself to spreading and tolerating violence in communities.

“But I think we can all accept that, to a large extent, our societies, including our police, still tacitly treat domestic violence differently to stranger on-stranger violence. The wife is told you going to make up. It’s okay. We take him in and then a month later, you come and beg forgiveness, and so we tolerate the violence if it’s in a domestic setting. We tolerate the violence if it’s violence against children, and often time we tolerate the violence, if it’s violence against marginalised or disadvantaged groups… violence has become a normal, accepted way of socialisation. And so, to me, the use of social media has to be to encourage and reverse that cultural norm that it is okay to resolve conflicts. It is okay to pull social or status, particularly amongst young [people], by being violent.”

Dickon continued, “What we have to spend time on is content development; developed by young [people] – and we can use the creative economy as one approach through things like arts, music – to re-engineer the behaviour of the next generation of Caribbean citizens to say that there are alternatives to resolving conflict. There are alternatives to career paths that does not involve ultimately guns, drugs and gangs.”

Continuing along the lines of public health issues, the Grenadian Prime Minister shared that the mental impact COVID-19 had on the psyche of young people should not be overlooked.

“We should not underestimate the damage that COVID-19 has gone to the mental psyche of young [people], many of whom spent their entire time on social media during that period. It was perhaps the only escape. But the question is the escape into what? And in many instances, it has been an escape from mental illness. So I think from a public health perspective, that that aspect also has to be looked at and addressed.”

Based on day one of the Regional Symposium on “Violence as a Public Health Issue – The Crime Challenge”, CARICOM heads are seeking to address the issue of violence in the region as a regional issue and not solely from an island-to-island perspective, similar to how COVID-19, HIV/AIDS and Non-Communicable Diseases are treated as a regional movement.

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