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Urgent meeting to address youth violence to be convened

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The committee assembled to find solutions to the deepening problem of youth-on-youth violence will convene an urgent meeting, very likely this week.

Director of Education, Clare Browne said the meeting will take place “as soon as possible” to address the incident that occurred last Friday near the YCMC Complex in which several teens, armed with machetes and other weapons, were menacing other young people present.

All the detained children were released to the custody of their parents following the incident, without charge.

According to Director Browne who chairs the committee, its other members are representatives of the ministries of Education and Social Transformation, the Royal Police Force of Antigua and Barbuda, the Antigua and Barbuda Union of Teachers and the National Parents-Teachers Association.

The committee met last in December 2022 when they agreed to implement a 13-point plan to tackle the increase in youth violence.

A follow-up meeting was to have taken place last month, however it was postponed due to the 18th January elections.

Browne has said that in view of the Clare Hall Secondary School attack and the arrests on Friday of the young men near YMCA, the committee must meet urgently to review its plan, assess the results of the areas rolled out so far and examine other areas that must still be addressed.

Among other things, the 13-point plan calls for public education on the Juvenile Justice Act and the country’s marijuana laws which now allows people to legally possess enough of the substance for their personal use.

The committee believes that many young people in particular harbour a great deal of misconceptions and lack information regarding the decriminalisation of marijuana.

The plan of action also calls for members of parliament to be lobbied to enact legislative changes which will give the police greater authority to deal with youthful perpetrators of violence and members of youth gangs.

There are concerns that the laws, as they currently exist, prevent the police from effectively executing their duties.

St. Lucia is also facing a similar crisis with respect to youth crime. There, police have implemented policies which allow them to arrest and charge young people who are found loitering, fighting, armed with weapons or illegal substances.

Increased police patrols in the hours after schools close, particularly in high crime areas, has also been recommended as most of the violence that happens takes place in areas such as the YMCA or the bus stations where children congregate.

Director Browne said the escalating cases of youth-on-youth violence is a “very serious matter” which affects all of society and one which requires a societal approach to resolve.

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