In a country fast becoming inured to much of the seamier side of life, the news this past few days that two teenagers had disappeared from their homes caused quite a stir.
The fact that one had been missing for at least three weeks before the alarm was raised was frightening, to say the least. Since then, the sordid details of a life of only 13 years is alarming in a society as small as this.
The story of the other disappearing teen, only one year older, has similarities. The difference is, for her, there is hope because unlike the other she was found alive.
There are myriad questions to be asked, many of which strike at the heart of what this country has been allowed to become.
Frequently, in this paper, we report on teenagers, some hardly out of puberty, who are brought before the courts charged with offences of varying kinds. In many of the cases, these children belong to immigrants who have thrown up their hands, leaving their offspring to be menaces to society.
Recently, one such, a nine year old, was ordered deported to his homeland after his mother told the court she was at her wits’ end and could do nothing to curb his behaviour.
It would appear that these two recent cases have some of the makings of those, which have come before the courts. Both parents of these teenagers, in one way or the other, were at a loss to know what to do about their errant teens.
Like the other times, the blame game has begun. The police have come in for some criticism for failing to publish the photograph of the dead teen in a timely manner, even though the mother admitted she felt no sense of alarm when her daughter had not turned up for days, as it was her custom.
Amongst the more sober, the questions run much deeper. What does it mean to be a parent? What is the responsibility of the state when parents either abdicate their roles or are just not able to carry out their function adequately?
Someone once noted that there is no job for which one is more ill prepared than that of being a parent. Many manuals have been written and volumes have been penned, but the fact is the task of rearing another human being is awesome and should not be taken lightly.
Some point to the economic situation where parents are forced to take on additional jobs as one of the factors in the break down in parenting. No doubt there is merit in this argument, but this cannot be the whole story. Caribbean society still has remnants of the village concept in raising a child.
Others blame our materialistic society where teenagers crave ‘shiny things’ which neither they nor their parents can afford and thus they are easily lured by those who can.
The time is far spent for every parent to take a hard look at what they are doing or failing to do in this matter of rearing their children. It cannot be the responsibility of the state to ensure that children become productive members of society.
In many parts of the world parents are held criminally accountable for infractions committed by their children. Perhaps the time is right for this country to have a serious overhaul of the laws which govern parents’ responsibility with a view to strengthening them and, where none exists, bring them into being.
This wringing of hands every time a teenager disappears, for whatever period of time, is counter-productive. More often than not they are found in the company of adults. We are yet to hear of anyone being charged for harbouring a minor or a parent being hauled before the court for neglect.
The Chinese have been criticised for a national policy, which stipulates one child per family. While we do not necessarily subscribe to this view, a correlation does exist between the number of children in a family and the problems they present to society.
We can only hope that, even as the police look for answers to what led to the demise of a 13 year old at Devils Bridge, and the discovery of another in the wee hours of the morning with a gang, the larger issue of what ought to be the role of the parent and that of the state when children go astray, does not get lost.