Action needed on street children – Boys being used as criminal pawns
published: Sunday | July 29, 2007
Fabian Ledgister, Freelance Writer
"Street boys will become street men, who become street monsters! I predicted it a long time ago; it’s inevitable when given the level of exposure they get," says Claudette Pious, veteran comedienne and head of the youth organisation, Children First.
Speaking against the background of recent criminal activities where police have identified street children as the perpetrators of major crimes, Pious cites the cause as lack of attention being given these youths.
"There have been too many meetings and talk of what needs to be done, and little or no action. Lawd! Mi a talk bout it fi 10 years now! But a only when yuh hear the street boy bruk in a house and shoot an uptown lady that dem get attention," says the frustrated long-time advocate of street children, in reference to an incident in which police say they removed the leader of an organised armed gang of street boys called the ‘In The Streets’ gang’.
According to the police, the young gang members, whose street turf is in the vicinity of the St. Andrew Parish Church, in Half-Way Tree, use windshield wiping – at the stop lights where Maxfield Avenue intersects with Hagley Park Road – as a cover-up for criminal activities.
The alleged street-boy gang was observed recently engaging in deplorable actions such as spraying one motorist with a water bottle, hitting another motor vehicle, and cursing many others who would not give them money. At one point, a few boys converged on the church’s parking lot, where one ofthem showed the others a cellular phone, assumed to be stolen, and then handed it to an older youth in the group.
Officer in charge of crime at the Half-Way Tree Police Station, Detective Sergeant Radcliffe Levy, says: "It’s a big business being conducted by this gang, where they loot cameras, cellphones, and other items, and sell them at cheap prices to others that sell them again."
Police say street kids are now including car theft in their criminal activities, after police identified two youths in a recent car robbery to be street boys from the In The Streets gang’s vicinity.
Reports are that about 3:45 a.m. on July 3, a green Toyota Kluger SUV, which was reported stolen from the Mayfair Vista area in Kingston 19, was spotted along Ambrook Lane, which runs directly behind the St. Andrew Parish Church’s cemetery. Two boys, who were recognised by the police to be members of the In the Streets gang, were spotted jumping out of the vehicle with what appeared to be gunshot wounds.
"The area is tense from a recent killing, so we believe that the boys were met with gunfire when they entered the community with the strange vehicle," an officer at the Half-Way Tree Police Station surmised. The police took them both to the Kingston Public Hospital, where they were treated and arrested for larceny of motor vehicle.
Convener of Hear The Children’s Cry, Betty-Ann Blaine, says that she recognises the behaviour of street children as bordering on delinquency, and has experienced their lawlessness first hand.
"I’ve been a victim of verbal abuse, I’ve been a victim of my car being damaged by some of these boys. There are organisations such as Children First, operated by Claudette Pious, the YMCA, and the Possibility programme, which the St. Andrew Care Centre operates, but much more needs to be done," says Blaine.
Pious says Children First has augmented its initiatives with the street children to include locating and eliminating the push factors that introduce them to street life. "What we do is look for the push factors – where they are coming from, who they live with. We institute both preventative and rehabilitative methods in a holistic way, and we are seeing success," she says.
"Rehabilitation is equipping these kids with a career skill such as barbering, photography and cosmetology, so instead of becoming monsters, they have the self-reliance and confidence to uplift themselves. In our preventative measures, we go into the homes and communities where these streets kids are coming from and try to empower the parents of kids with skills so they don’t push their children to street hustling," Pious added.
The Half-Way Tree police say they will also be taking proactive measures to stem the trend of street boys being used as criminal pawns, by levying criminal charges on the parents.
Detective Levy says: "These boys are buying bullets with your loose change and are recruiting more and more young persons without sources of income, so we are now going after the parents of these juveniles, levying charges of child neglect wherever applicable, and the child will be taken off the streets so as not to be used as criminals."
But top cop for the St. Andrew South division, Superintendent Derrick ‘Cowboy’ Knight, says that he will be trying what he describes as a passive and possibly more effective approach to combat the issue of street boys entering crime.
"About six years ago, SSP (Senior Superintendent) Powell, then head of the Newport West Police Station, teamed up with a teacher to create an education and feeding programme that saw success. I am now in dialogue with that said teacher to reinstitute this initiative, as well as NGOs, PMI and the wharf to get this under way," he says.