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Friday 23 March 2018

Forgotten victims of crime

THE FIRST ever public hearing of the Joint Select Committee on Human Rights, Equality and Diversity recently heard of the plight of hundreds of cases of children (orphans) whose parents were victims or perpetrators of crime. These children are very often left to fend for themselves, since there is no organised system to cater to their unique needs or circumstances.

This is indeed a frightening revelation to the national community, but unfortunately one that teachers know very well. Teachers regularly treat with such children and have been complaining about the lack of programmes on the part of the State to effectively care for such children.

The net result of this reality is that quite often such children become criminals themselves. At school, teachers would observe the classical symptoms of clinical depression — anxiety, antisocial behaviour, violent outbursts, destruction of property and withdrawal.

In very extreme cases some students may even become suicidal. Teachers may even notice sudden drastic changes in the behaviour of some children.

Where possible, teachers would refer such children to the guidance officer, if one is available.

Unfortunately, by this time it might already be too late. Even if the external assistance of the Student Support Services of the Ministry of Education is engaged, the corresponding external support services from other arms of the State are unable to render the kind of assistance and intervention that is necessary.

The Children’s Authority has repeatedly complained about the paucity of facilities available to adequately care for abused and orphaned children.

According to the director of the Children’s Authority, there are 180 children on their database who are classified as victims of crime. The chief education officer of the Ministry of Education indicated, according to the records of the ministry, there are currently 283 students in the education system whose parents were either victims or perpetrators of crime.

TTUTA, based on the experience of teachers, asserts that this number might be much higher.

Many of these victims drop out of school quite early and hence the authority or ministry’s record may exclude them.

Unfortunately, at the school level, other students who are not socialised to display empathy would taunt and heckle such victims.

Very often this leads to violent confrontations.

Eventually, such victims succumb to the social pressure and drop out of school — the dropout rate for those attending secondary schools is much higher than primary for obvious reasons.

When teachers and school officials investigate students displaying extreme antisocial behaviour, the dysfunctional status of the “home” environment emerges as the primary source of the problem.

One must therefore ask the fundamental questions: What is the impact of this phenomenon on the overall problem of school violence and indiscipline given the high level of criminal activity in the country? To what extent do our courts take into account the children who become parentless when adults are incarcerated? Should the justice system be mandated to order the State to accept responsibility for the care and protection of these victims of crime or orphans of justice? Do we have the requisite number of social workers, resources and attendant facilities to attend to the social and emotional needs of such children, and if not why not? How many times have we witnessed criminal behaviour of parents being replicated by their children if targeted interventions are not made at an early age? How do we stop this vicious cycle of crime and criminality? How can we protect our young children in some instances from the actions of their own parents and their unfortunate circumstances? There are no cookie-cutter responses to these questions, but they are questions that must be addressed if we desire to reduce or eliminate the ever increasing incidents of violence and i n d i s c ipl i n e in our nation’s schools.



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