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Jaevion Nelson | Army draft no solution for at-risk youths

Published:Thursday | April 27, 2017 | 12:00 AM

We tend to think that all young people need is something to do rather than the actual resources and opportunities needed to fulfil their dreams. Quite often, policy and decision-makers, who more than likely are far removed from the realities faced by our young people, make ill-informed decisions about the programmes and initiatives that are necessary to empower them.

In some way, these initiatives are really meant to cover up their lip service to young people's priorities while pretending not to be culpable for their underdevelopment.

Typically, policymakers fail to acknowledge and address some of the root causes of the problems bombarding our young people and stymieing their development. We refuse to acknowledge how under-resourced schools are, how unsafe some communities are, and how poor some families are, for example, and how the Government has not done enough to address these problems in a comprehensive way.

Consequently, these programmes and initiatives targeting our young people - especially those who are characterised as unattached as well as those who are most vulnerable and marginalised - are often misguided. Inevitably, the initiatives fail to achieve their objectives and they leave our young people in the same position, or even worse. More disillusioned, frustrated, angry, and feeling inadequate.

What young people in Jamaica need are tailored programmes that cater to their individual and collective needs. They need initiatives that would allow them to grow and develop to live to their fullest potential. They need adults, policymakers and decision-makers and key influencers who respect their agency, who appreciate that even though they may sit on the corner in their community all day doing nothing, smoking ganja or drinking alcohol, catcalling girls or protecting their corner/turf, they are quite able to tell what they need to make them more empowered.

Our young people are among some of the most ambitious youths I have met. It sets them apart from many young people, including those in some of the most developed countries. The problem they face in Jamaica when compared to many others is that they do not have the wherewithal to pursue their dreams.




The idea of 'drafting unattached youth' into the army is rather worrying. It is another example of adults, who are quite likely educated and gainfully employed, thinking this is the way to address a grave issue across the country. Let's come up with an idea and make them do it; they'll be better off as a result.

Hundreds of young people in Jamaica are deemed 'unattached' because they are not 'constructively' engaged in any educational or other programme. They are unemployed and often outside of the labour force. We rarely talk about how the education system has continued to fail our young people whenever we talk about this specific set.

I suspect it is because we still think that every student has an equal opportunity and that the education system should not be held accountable for the vast number of students who leave school without any qualification.

I can't see how this proposal to basically throw them into the army would help unattached youths, actually. Besides, aren't there non-negotiable requirements, including a certain level of education, that one needs to join the army? I don't suppose the profile of an unattached youth is clear.

Let's rid ourselves of this belief that they should be grateful for whatever opportunities are afforded to them, even if they do not align with their needs in any way and will not make them more empowered.

Let's endeavour to do more and better for our young people. Let us commit to addressing the inequalities that hinder their progress. Give them the opportunities and resources they need to make their ambitions and dreams come true.

We should not continue to invest in these piecemeal approaches that do very little for our young people. We desperately need to realise that our continued failure to do more, and better, for and by our young people hinders our development.

Vision 2030 hinges on, among other things, ALL young people - not some - being empowered to achieve their fullest potential. We must respect and support our young people to be their best selves. Only then can we become the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business.

- Jaevion Nelson is a youth development, HIV and human rights advocate. Email feedback to and