Children with nowhere to go

Between 2000 and 2010, 31 juveniles, predominantly males, spent time at the Corradino Correctional Facility

The news item that a 16-year-old boy was sent to prison was carried quite prominently in the local press. One newspaper referred to this case as ‘the harrowing life story of a troubled teen’ – I would call it tragic. The issue regarding this case is not a judicial one, it is a social problem that is constantly on the rise. The system has failed and we are all responsible for this.

This teenager seems to have had a behavioural problem since a very young age. He was placed under a care order at the age of 10; has an addiction to synthetic drugs; he was under treatment for ADHD; he was admitted to the juvenile section at Mount Carmel and did not attend school after Form 1.

Both the defence and the prosecution agreed that in the interests of society, this individual should receive the necessary treatment and have his problems tackled by the authorities. This boy could not be sent back home since the boy’s home environment did not help. In fact, according to the probation officer, the drug abuse would resume. Unfortunately we do not have the residential facilities to house youths with such a difficult upbringing and with a drug problem.

A professional counsellor who has been working with domestic violence victims and their children for the last seven years, has connected this problem with the work she faces on a daily basis. She feels helpless when facing children at risk who have to continue living with alleged perpetrators simply because they have nowhere else to go. Usually these children, who live in daily fear and in constant risk, are the ones exhibiting ‘dangerous’, ’violent’ or ‘extreme passivity’ in our schools.

She adds that during her work in schools she struggles with children seeking support and help to get out of their abusive household but are trapped in because the adults responsible for them are not considering the children’s well being. Studies clearly demonstrate that these youngsters, who are in need to move out, are themselves the future victims or perpetrators.

We need to act and act fast. Last February, Dr Janice Formosa Pace and Prof. Saviour Formosa presented a report on the needs and requirements of a secure college for children in Malta. This will provide the necessary facilities where children in need of control can be educated in a secure environment and enable their re-integration into society. Such a college would provide the right setting to implement potential preventive and controlling measures.

A research conducted between 2000 and 2010 provides a valid picture of juvenile offending in Malta. During this period, 31 juveniles, predominantly males, spent time at the Corradino Correctional Facility. Those youths belonging to the older age bracket (13 to 16 years old) are more likely to get imprisoned but the new legislation linked to the age of criminal liability (14 years) is expected to influence crime trends.

Additionally, in a Crime Victimisation Survey carried out in 2015, it was pointed out that laws that regulate the criminal activity of children need to be revised and that children need to be controlled in a more effective manner by their parents or guardians and at school. It is being clearly expressed that there is a dire need to set up institutions that could look after children who engage themselves in criminal activity.

The State, the Church and NGOs need to address this problem by putting heads together to find a solution – particularly by providing a residential setting for troubled young people for whom such care would therapeutically address their needs and provide the education and skills that will facilitate their re-integration into society as well as enhance their potential towards a meaningful life.

Evarist Bartolo is Minister of Education and Employment

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