According to the Caribbean Human Development Report 2012 (CHDR), in an escalating crime situation in Guyana, the face of crime has been getting younger, fostered by easy accessibility to drugs and firearms. In addition, society has sent subtle signals of tolerance, encouragement and even respect for violence and deviant behavior through the political and community systems of governance, compounded, by ethnic and political tensions and reinforced by some leading figures in music and politics, as well as the media, especially through some letter writers and columnists.
The CHDRT reports that as the value of legitimate structures and agents of
socialization and their influence on youth behaviour are diminished, and as faith in formal governance processes decreases (with politicians, on both sides of the political divide, unable or unwilling to display requisite statesmanship and build equity and social cohesion) young people seek to create sub-cultural systems of participation through criminal activities, which become viable alternatives to legitimate employment, social activism and normative personal growth. In the process ethics, morals and positive social values are replaced by a certain degree of callousness and disregard for human life and personal property, while community mindedness and social responsibility are replaced by counter normative individualism and gang/deviant group loyalties, with its own morality and socialization.
Among the causes of youth violence identified by experts are: poor, high- crime neighbourhoods; parental ‘training’ of children to be confrontational and aggressive; the impact of technology; increase in school and pre-adolescents violence; low levels of educational achievements; high cost of living and levels of unemployment; exploitation and abuse by adults (43.3% of respondents to the UNDP youth survey reported themselves as victims of family violence) and exposure to community and gang volatility (youth mimic the acts of violence they witness or experience); loss of social cohesion; early sexual initiation (the age of first sex is among the lowest in the world: as early as 12.5 years of age among males.); drug abuse and mental health problems and inherent youthful desire to take risks with personal security and safety.
The CHDP indicates that victims of abuse in the home, particularly victims of sexual abuse, including incest (a growing trend throughout the Caribbean,) sometimes run away from home and end up living on the streets thus becoming exposed to increased risk of resorting to criminal and violent activities. That law enforcement personnel are not sensitized and trained well enough to deal with issues relating to negative parental relationships and domestic violence, that they often turn a blind eye and leave the situations to be dealt with by the family instead of applying the law, and that even the courts often refuse to apply the law and/or are lenient when they do so only serve to compound matters.
The loss of social cohesion because of inadequate socialization by parents and schools leads to social exclusion and low self-esteem among youth and makes them vulnerable to gang, aggressive peers and adults, deviance and violent activities and crime as a way of life. Also, the ease with which crimes can be committed and the relative inability of law enforcement to identify and arrest perpetrators of violent crimes makes crime as a way of life even more attractive. So too the perspectives that enable perpetrators to see victims as ‘the other’, with respect to ethnicity, political loyalties, geographical location, class and status and differential socialization and culture.
Then there is the growing view that religion and religious leaders foster male dominance resulting in inequitable male/female relationships and creating scope for abuse towards women. There is too a lack of adequate resources and facilities to deal with violence as a whole and the existing NGO’s are too few and struggle for financing, expertise and adequate logistics to make the kind of impact needed. Furthermore inadequate government outreach to NGO’s and other stakeholders and an inability to create mechanisms that involve all stakeholders in concerted efforts, stymie redress.
While the latest available figures for the total cost of youth violence are for 2002 – US$70,672,498, given the rising trend over the last decade, it would not be difficult to infer a rising cost that could well top US$100,000,000. The monetary costs aside, youth violence constrains youth choices, freedom and opportunity and creates an environment conducive to more violence. Also the risks to sexual, mental and physical health include promiscuity, unprotected sex, and substance (including alcohol). Additionally, early sex has put young people at greater risk and made them more vulnerable to exposure to HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, as well as teenage and unexpected pregnancy, which constrain socio-economic potential.