The United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, has estimated that more than one million children are behind bars around the world. Many are held in decrepit, abusive and demeaning conditions, deprived of education, access to meaningful activities, and regular contact with the outside world.
Many of these children—and adults who were convicted of crimes committed when they were children—have received excessive or disproportionate sentences that violate international law, which requires that imprisonment of children be in "conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time".
The Sunday Guardian engaged the public via a social media poll, in which we asked if legislation should be considered to also charge parents of minors who commit criminal offences. While some agreed, others believed it would be an unfair approach to take as all parents may not be deserving of such a draconian measure.
•Jean Claude Lemieux wrote, "Yes, here in Canada parents are responsible of minors."
•Christian Pallai-Hernandez thinks it is easier said than done. "Every situation is different, in some cases parents of these children were minors when they had them and haven’t yet reached on solid footing or maturity to raising children. In other instances a 16-year-old committing armed robbery or joining a gang is at an age where I am of the opinion is good enough to make decisions on their own and as such parents don’t necessarily have that control. To hold parents accountable by punitive measures, in my opinion, would just be making a bad situation worse. My solution to the problem in these situations is getting the social services working properly again, backed by the TTPS and varying NGOs. It is easy to critique people when you are at a distant and don’t know their situation and say we should pass legislation. For me, new wine in old bottles never fixes anything."
•Mary Lee Quai is of the view that parents do not utilise enough of the resources available to deal with their troubled children. "Parents should get help from all available sources and they are necessary if they have problematic children. They need to do whatever necessary to straighten the crooked tree before it sets."
•Author and activist Debbie Jacob, who work with inmates, was vehemently against this theory. "Impossible! There are many parents who do try but can’t control their children. And what a message to send to children..."
•Vernie Bishop is also not taking the "fall" for any "unruly" child. She referred to the old adage, "you make the child but you don’t make their mind".
"I not taking any jail if God forbid my child rejects the training I’m trying to instil. Let them sit in jail and face the realities of a life of delinquency."
•Kenneth Philips argues, "The term minors suggests that they are under the care and protection of some responsible adult. You are touching the nerve of one of the major social ills facing the country—delinquent parenting. Laws are long overdue as is accountability by child protection agencies, and the failing court system."
Over a month ago 14-year-old Luke Williams was shot dead by a liquor store owner, who claimed to have acted in self-defence after it was alleged Luke along with an older friend attempted to rob the St James-based establishment and also threatened to kill the owner.
Williams' age and reports of him usually leading a "nightlife" as a deejay stunned many who were curious to know how the St Anthony’s College student was allowed such "leeway" with a parent present in the home—let alone a parent who is said to be a female member of the TTPS.
The discussion of absent fathers and single mothers also arose, after Williams’ school football coach, Reginald Chritchlow told Guardian Media that he often offered positive guidance to the deceased and tried to be like a "father figure" to him.
He said the teen had social and domestic challenges but with the right environment, he could have become one of this country’s ace footballers. And he even knocked society saying it should take the blame for having failed young people as raising a child goes beyond just "mummy and daddy".
"It is the society that led to this. Now that is not to say a single parent can’t bring up a single child or more, but it’s not easy and can’t be done all the time," he argued.
On the question of whether parents should face the courts for their delinquent children, social worker Alsoona Boswell-Jackson said while on the surface many may respond with a resounding "yes", this sentiment should never be generalised as each household and situation differ from circumstance to circumstance.
She explained that many parents today were dealing with a lot of issues. Starting with the nuclear family, she pointed out that while children who enjoy the presence of both parents in the home are deemed 'blessed' and 'lucky' in today’s society, what’s widely ignored is that these very parents are still grappling with adult issues such as economic stability, emotional dissonance, and ageing in a technological world.
She said parents of teenagers were struggling to keep abreast and up to date with the fast rate with which their teens and pre-teens are growing while being exposed to the inevitable "beast" called social media.
"I have come across cases where children from nuclear families, who were socialised in the strictest of ways with absolute impeccable morals and values, were in trouble with the law and incarcerated. I have dealt with parents shedding fountains of tears while lamenting that they both did their very best with the child together and were appalled by the things he/ she did which they did not learn from home," Boswell-Jackson said.
At the same time, however, she did acknowledge in homes where dual parenting is active, that children may fare a bit better than those raised in a single-parent setting, partially because the tasks of raising the child/children are shared, both educationally and emotionally.
"Single parents have it a little more challenging in raising children especially when they are the sole breadwinner and co-parenting is a difficult feat to accomplish. They too face the adult issues; grappling with trying to make ends meet, little or no familial support, dealing with toddlers, pre-teens and teenagers, and all the psycho-social changes that go with that. Not to mention, their own self-esteem issues, depression, desperation, and exasperation," Boswell-Jackson added.
She emphasised that single parents must be commended for the mantle they carry as they were doing 90 per cent alone that’s authentically designed for two. She is also of the view that each parent provides a unique role in the home and family and it must be understood that mothers cannot parent like fathers and fathers cannot parent like mothers.
"Hence, the reason you find that young men like Luke gravitate to "father figures" like his coach or even community leaders who fill that aching void left by one absent parent and the other busy one. Then there are the issues of poverty and peer influence," Boswell-Jackson said.
She said even if "coachman" was making theoretical sense, the practicality of life situations dictates that survival means foregoing what you know is morally right for the satisfaction of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, (a theory in psychology proposed by Abraham Maslow in his 1943 paper—A Theory of Human Motivation Psychological Review).
Boswell-Jackson said she was a firm believer of telling both adults and children alike that they are free to choose, but they are not free from the consequences of their choices.
Boswell-Jackson said there was no one way to measure whether a child is plain stubborn or influenced the wrong way. But ultimately, it will be unfair for her to 'side with the masses that cry a resounding 'yes', that parents should be held accountable for the crimes their children commit.
"We as a society need to bring back the village raising the child" mentality, and the village does not necessarily mean a community of residence, but also a church, women’s groups, village councils, youth groups, PTAs etc."
Priest: Let go of the 'ego drama'
Father Robert Christo, head of communications at Archbishop’s house believes it is the continued practice of "selfishness" that has caused such a breakdown in family life. He advised it was time for society to let go if its "ego drama" and embrace "theo-drama" (the act of selflessness), in order to heal the family, our children and the nation.
"Christian values need to be reinstated in homes because at most all the child needs, is righteous living and good examples in a God-centered home.
"What we must love is the will of God and love of humanity…love what God loves, love for family in which case the family becomes the first church."
He said to reclaim that sense of family and love for mankind we must move away from our "ego drama” to our "theo-drama".
He called on parents to work with and stay with their children, regardless of how challenging it might be.
He noted that people must understand that it is God who is the author and finisher of their faith and it was not them who were the writers, producers, and actors of their lives, as their life belongs to God and not them.
Asked if we were far from reclaiming "family life", Christo said that with our very nature which breathes the terrible "Ps"— pride, pleasure, profit, possession, power and prestige—it would take time, and not just time but subjecting our will to God’s will.