It’s Time to Assist Street Youth

(c) Jamaica Observer

It’s rather worrying that whenever we talk about the young men working at the stop lights, it almost always is about “getting rid” of them through some kind of police intervention.

Seldom do we interrogate the circumstances that might have led to them taking up this kind of occupation. Have you ever considered what kind of social interventions could be implemented to improve their situation and control what seems to be the growing number of young men hustling at traffic lights across the country?

I am concerned about our tendency to hastily suggest the application of punitive measures to resolve the kind of issues that have come about because of our collective gross negligence as a people. I believe it is quite obvious that the negligence of parents and families to take care of and act in the best interest of children has contributed significantly to this issue.

The negligence of the State to provide care and places of safety for children who do not have a home and its incompetence to actually tackle poverty and other issues that specifically affected individuals living in poor communities has played an integral in this situation.


Earlier this week, I saw on Twitter that among the proposed new powers to be given to the police, per the June 13, 2017 version of the Police Service Act (Draft), is the “power to arrest without warrant with respect to aggressive begging, aggressive vending, loitering, and intimidation of individuals (to assist in curbing street crimes such as loader men at transport centres, windshield wipers, etc).”

I am aware that some of them are rude, aggressive, and even violent. I am aware that men and women have different experiences. I agree that something must be done, but our suggestions and efforts cannot be resigned in a punitive approach. Some of these young men grew up with us on the streets. They are evidence of successive governments’ failure to facilitate meaningful development for our fellow citizens, especially for those living in poor communities across the country.

Note, I am not saying they should not be held accountable for their actions, though it is rather uncanny that this group has been so named in a proposed legislation that speaks to the formulation of the police force when the police already have such powers to arrest people.

I have seen individuals bemoan that getting rid of them is the best strategy as efforts to assist them in the past have failed miserably. Apparently, the thing to do in this case is not to try again to see what lessons one would have learned from previous interventions. Instead, they should be removed.

Merely enrolling them into training programmes, especially if they do not align with their interests, dreams and aspirations (yes, they have those too like you and I!), robs them of their daily income and, if not linked directly to gainful employment, is quite frankly abusive and not helping.


A critical component to addressing this issue is the fact that it is often more profitable to work outside the formal sector and be your own boss. The many stories of workers, especially those earning low wages, which these young men are more than likely to, being abused routinely by their supervisors do very little to encourage people.

On top of this kind of abuse, they are paid low wages – denied overtime sometimes, forced to work in poor conditions and without the appropriate gear and tools, and have no job security. In these instances, they are sometimes unable to do anything about the situation and are forced to accept their subjugated positions because securing justice is expensive and an unrealistic ambition.

We must appreciate that any kind of ‘opportunity’ dangled at these youths will not solve the problem they face and motorists face. Training alone, no matter how exciting, will not help.

There are enough examples about how poorly designed initiatives to assist different groups of young people fail that we can learn from. It requires a multifaceted strategy that incorporates psycho-social initiatives as well to address the history of abuse they might have been exposed to or experienced in their home, in their community, on the streets and in other spaces. You will need to work on their trust issues and the way they know how best to survive.

It’s time we start paying attention to these critical issues and treat with them with alacrity early rather than allow them to fester. We absolutely cannot forget our humanity in dealing with these issues. Let’s end our insatiable desire to always be punitive in these circumstances and encourage the development of interventions that are thoroughly designed in collaboration with those who are to be assisted.

Published in the Jamaica Gleaner on December 17, 2017:

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