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Editor’s note:This article was published in the editorial section of the Chronicle Newspaper on July 03.

The involvement of youths in serious crimes continues to grow in Dominica despite public acknowledgment of the problem and a persistent outcry against it by concerned citizens, civic organisations and the police.

The police have recorded seven homicides to date this year and in two of these cases the suspects are youths under 18 years old.

A 14-year-old is in police custody after the stabbing death of a 42 year old man in Mahaut, and a 17-year-old is the prime suspect in the murder of a 25-year-old Pointe Michel man who was shot to death in Grand Bay. Both murders occurred during the same weekend in June.

These incidents are the latest evidence of the emerging phenomenon of youths under 18 years old committing serious crimes or being associated with extreme criminal activities. The involvement of youths in serious crimes was once unheard of in Dominica, but it is now becoming clear that our society is producing youths who are capable of committing monstrous, unthinkable crimes.

Dominican society has to take stock of this disturbing development, assess the variety of motives involved and take urgent steps to stop this new trend immediately. In particular, the nation should address the issue of youths joining violent criminal gangs with access to illegal firearms. Unfortunately, a recent amnesty by police, allowing persons to give up illegal firearms without penalty, was virtually unheeded. Youths joining criminal gangs and committing serious crimes has brought untold woe to countries worldwide.

We need to engage sociologists, criminologists and other professionals to deal with this problem while it is still in its embryonic stages. We must ask them to find out why so many of the nation’s youths seem to have rebellious tendencies and why some are committing serious crimes at a very young age.

Even without expert testimony, it is clear that some of Dominica’s children are growing up in violent environments and have violent role models. Influences from within their own households and communities cause these children to use violence for self-defense or just to get what they want. The propensity for violence and the inclination for criminality often go hand in hand, so children from violent and deprived environments, especially young males, are especially likely to get involved in serious crimes while they are still juveniles.

A host of social and personal problems contribute to the negative background of such youths; it is clear that children who grow up around violence and crime are at risk to become violent criminals.

The nation must move to reduce and eventually eliminate that environment in households and communities across Dominica. Society needs to ensure that more children grow up in a stable home and school environment. Communities and schools can easily tell which children — especially boys — are hyperactive, impulsive, and suffer from attention deficits and social adjustment problems. The nation needs to develop social and institutional mechanisms to allow qualified persons to detect such disorders and intervene accordingly; it would save many youths from drifting towards violence and crime.

Increasing involvement of youths in serious crime is an extremely ominous sign. All stakeholders must pool their ideas and resources urgently, and stop this problem from spreading.

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