Jan 18, 2016 News
By Kiana Wilburg
“Often, people would throw around the saying that it takes a village to raise a child but I would add that it also takes a village to destroy one. By that I mean, that many within the communities in Guyana have turned a blind eye to the problem. They have no interest in helping, thinking that it’s the government’s job, but they have a role to play in helping our youths. The neglect, even from that level, has also contributed to the intense level of the monster we have to deal with. That is the truth many wouldn’t want to accept…”
-Social activist Doris Shelto
There are a few grotesque and depressing realities about drug use by youths in Guyana. One of the most frightening is perhaps the correlation between the intense levels of drug use among youths and its amplifying effect on the already high crime rate.
Many who have joined the conversation on this topic agree that more needs to be done to effectively tackle this very complex issue.
More needs to be done by parents. More needs to be done by the communities. More needs to be done by the law enforcement agencies and social organizations. More needs to be done by the government of the day.
Sharing his thoughts on this matter, University Professor, Dr. David Hinds noted that research has shown that there is a linkage between drug use and crime especially as it relates to addicts turning to violent acts to secure money for more drugs or engaging in acts of violence while being “high.”
He said that there may also be some linkage between casual drug use by our youth and the prevalence of crime among that section of the population. Dr. Hinds emphasized, however that there are several factors at work here—easy access to drugs, the gun culture, the party culture, lawlessness and poverty.
“First there is easy access to drugs. Guyana has become one of the top trans-shipment points for drugs. We have not been able to control the flow of drugs into our countries largely because of our porous borders and to some extent because of corruption within the ranks of our law enforcement forces. Where there is high supply of drugs there is going to be an equally high demand.”
The second factor, he said, has to do with the social condition of our youth. Drug use cuts across social class, ethnicity, gender and generation. The University Professor said however that the poor are always more vulnerable. Dr. Hinds asserted that high unemployment and high school drop-out rates among poor youth leave them susceptible to drug use and other forms of social deviance.
“There is also the factor of the party culture that has become a way of life among our youth. The mix of party, alcohol and drugs is well documented. So that young people start with casual drug use and this expand over time to addiction and resort to violence. Lawlessness is another pivotal factor. There is the perception by many that you can engage in excessive behavior and get off. In such circumstances people are more likely to push the envelope; there is less fear of sanctions.”
The University Professor said that the third factor is the gun culture. He opined that guns are easily accessible. “So guns, alcohol and drugs within the context of the other major factor— lawlessness in the society— invariably lead to violence.”
Asked to say what can be done from the level of the Government, Dr. Hinds said, “What can the government do? Well let me start with what it shouldn’t do. It shouldn’t resort to brute force. There should be humane law enforcement but not the use of excessive state violence. It should not criminalize the victims of the drug culture with excessive punishment.”
Dr. Hinds said that the government needs to aggressively tackle the drug trade. If the flow of illicit drugs is stemmed then Guyana would be in a better position to deal with excessive drug use. He said that obviously there is need to improve the condition of the poor—work, education, recreation.
“I really do believe that some form of the old National Service is needed as a first step. Maybe a National Service without the military component would work. The government has to continue its program to get guns off the streets. This is pivotal. If you do everything and don’t deal with the gun problem, then you are still in trouble.”
The University Professor said that rehabilitation is another area the government should look at. He said that most of the young people involved in excessive drug abuse are victims and should be helped through recovery programs. “And of course there is always the need for education. We are doing some of that public education but perhaps we need to do more. You are never going to get rid of drug use. But as a start you can contain it and try to sever its linkage to crime.”
Social activist, Ms. Doris Shelto agrees with Dr. Hinds’ position as she shared her thoughts on the matter. In the heart of Sophia, Shelto creates a sanctuary for youths who turn to drugs to escape their depressing circumstances.
Based on her numerous discussions with such youths, she found that they either get involved in criminal activities because of the effect of the drugs on their behaviour, for economic reasons or become drafted into the violence related to the production or sale or drugs.
“For many reasons these youths get involved in drugs and it has a psychological effect on their behaviour. They fall into a trap. And many of them get involved in criminal activities so that they can get more resources to feed that high which they fall prey to. Many persons have their own solutions to this very complicated issue but for me it starts with parents and the communities.”
“But I would also want to concentrate on the power of the communities. Often times people would throw around the saying that it takes a village to raise a child but I would add that it also takes a village to destroy one. By that I mean, that many within the communities in Guyana have turned a blind eye to the problem. They have no interest in helping, thinking that it’s the government’s job, but they have a role to play in helping our youths. The neglect, even from that level, has also contributed to the intense level of the monster we have to deal with. That is the truth many wouldn’t want to accept. That by their inaction, they have contributed to the problem. We have lost our sense of service to our community.”
Commenting as well on this topic was political activist Frederick Kissoon.
“It’s a complicated story and it represents one of the failures of Guyana in dealing with it effectively. But what you have to do is break down each dimension and then look at the causes of each. Sentencing, for example, is something that needs to be reformed. We need better reform programmes for youths who are found guilty by the court to be in possession with a negligible amount of drugs and are made to mix and mingle with hardened criminals,” expressed the columnist.
He said that the court system, especially as it relates to the appointment of magistrates has to be reformed as well as part of fixing the sentencing disparities.
“What we have done in this country is to appoint magistrates who don’t have any sociological clue of the failures of Guyana when it comes to drug use and youth. So they end up being very harsh in passing down judgments on those persons between 18 and 30 years old. For the past 23 years we had a government which neglected African youths because they felt they were of no interest to their power base.”
As a result of this mindset, Kissoon asserted that unemployment rates increased over the last 20 years. And to add insult to injury, the columnist said that the former regime found the time to invest over US$50M in an unnecessary hotel when that money could have been spent on programmes to invest in youth and curb the high unemployment rates through meaningful programmes.
He, like Dr. Hinds, is also of the opinion that the National Service initiative should be reintroduced into the society in some shape or form.
“Burnham had a fantastic approach about the National Service but he was wrong in some of the ways it was implemented in saying that it was compulsory for various things. But it was good because it made them gainfully employed and showed them amazing aspects of their country.”
All three subjects agreed that while the solutions are also numerous, it requires urgent attention, and the efforts of many.
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