With the latest spike of violence that has caused a disheartening increase in the deaths of children, Belize is yet faced with the stark reality that there remains an inefficient and ineffective manner in how the country is dealing with crime and violence.
The latest tragedy, the death of seven-year-old Tyler Savery who was gunned down alongside his cousin while riding his bicycle, only reveals the callous nature of the youth responsible for this crime.
More than that, however, this, alongside the recent murders that have produced infants as collateral damage, only resound the realism that there is a pervasive criminal element, mind-set, platform, culture and breeding ground that must be addressed sensibly and strategically.
There is an urgent need for us as a country, a community and as investors in the future to embrace this reality and forge an alliance amongst ourselves to address crime and violence in Belize; to advocate for social justice from a political and policy standpoint and to foster and empower the marginalized population, especially the youth.
Tyler was a young child who had not even yet begun to live. He was deprived of a future, of life, of everything. The pain and agony his family is experiencing during these times is indescribable, but most importantly, incomprehensible and that is because they, like the rest of the community, question ‘why’.
Why would, an adult or, anyone, ride up in a car and fire shots indiscriminately towards a direction even though they recognize a child as a potential target/ victim? What could be going through that person’s mind to pull the trigger … numerous times realizing a child as the victim of his action, and speed off without rendering aid?
Researchers and anthropologists including Massari (2011) and Dr. Herbert Gayle (2010), have cited many reasons for violence and murders amongst the youth in Belize. Factors include the lack of economic opportunity and employment, poor school enrolment and participation, exposure to violence at home, in schools and neighbourhoods, access to criminal gangs, weapons, drugs and neglect in the homes (Cunningham et al., 2008).
Belize’s youth unemployment rate in 2010 was at 20%, the second highest in this region (UNDP, 2009).
In 2011, Massari found that 32% of Belizean youth did not have a strong attachment or emotional bond, which indicates their lack of emotional connectivity with people (Massari, 2011).
Jamaica lagged behind with 29%, while several of the larger Central American countries, including Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua, ranged from 26% to 27%. Many of these risk factors were observed with youths from the urban areas of Belize, specifically, the South Side.
According to Gayle and Mortis (2010), 99 percent of Belizean youth have witnessed violence, in comparison to 58 percent from Jamaica. Social exclusion is one of those significant themes that are a catalyst for structural violence because a segment of society is denied participation, rights, goods and resources primarily because of their economic status.
Other sources question whether the violence spews as a result of the sub-culture of the “code of the streets,” where at the heart of the code is the issue of “respect” amongst the youth.
However, whatever the diagnosis is, the Belizean community continues to be plagued with senseless and incremental violence. As noted in a recent newscast, senior officers in the Police Department have already noted an increase in the murder rate for 2016 compared to 2015 and 2014 (7News Belize, November 14, 2016).
This makes it imperative that we take on a strategic stand to understand and curb violence. I do not posit to have the answers to our crime situation; however, as a young Belizean, my observation is that substantive analysis and evidence-based solutions have been presented to Belize to address this issue. I therefore call on our government, civil and business communities, NGOs and institutions, parents and the youth to make your individual contribution in analyzing your system and invest in ways to stem and eliminate violence in Belize.
As a people, we have the ability but require the persevering will to address this sore that can cripple this young nation.
Tanya Bowen, Marnelle Castillo, Chelsea Simpson
Social Work Program, University of Belize