PHILIPSBURG--As preparations for Carnival 2016 are already taking shape, addressing the much-talked-about involvement of young people in adult-oriented festival events must be dealt with for their best interest and development, says United People’s (UP) party Member of Parliament (MP) Tamara Leonard.
“We have all seen very young children out all hours of the night, mothers pushing babies in strollers behind Carnival trucks. There is talk in Government circles about limiting traditional Carnival Jump-ups in an effort to stem the involvement of youngsters in these events. I can understand that this would be a reaction to the situation, but in my opinion doesn’t hit at the root of the problem,” Leonard said.
“Carnival itself should not have to suffer if a more prudent approach can be taken to the issue of youth involvement in what many see as adult activities. That approach focuses on parental responsibilities.
“Every Caribbean island has a Carnival activity and the governments of these islands recognise their responsibility towards the future generation of the country. St. Maarten Carnival models itself after the largest Carnival in the Caribbean basin: Trinidad and Tobago.
“As recently as 2012, the government of Trinidad and Tobago enacted the ‘Children Act,’ a broad, far-reaching law that also touches on parental responsibilities in terms of children being out in public, and the consequences of not living up to those responsibilities.
“From what I have observed, Carnival and its local stakeholders cannot afford to lose any more of its festival upon which the same stakeholders depend; case in point, the jump-ups. The Carnival Foundation hosts five jump-ups a year.
“Three of these jump-ups are traditional mainstays: opening of Carnival Village, Jouvert and Last Lap. The other two, the Causeway Jump-up and Around Town Jump-up, are sponsored by the Government-owned company TelEm and are vital to local bands who secure much-needed funds for participating in these events.”
Leonard explained that if any of these events were disallowed it would directly eliminate any opportunity local bands and artistes have not only to showcase their talent, but to secure funding to assist with their general Carnival preparations. “And, again, this would not address the root of the problem,” she said.
She recommended that Government and the Minister of Justice in particular use an approach similar to that used this past Carnival by the police to curb juvenile delinquency during Carnival, a model that would issue fines to neglectful parents whose children are out on the street without responsible adult supervision.
“Naturally the Police Department cannot round up every youngster on the street, but they can start by holding many parents accountable and sending a strong message that this practice will not be tolerated. An entire campaign can be tailored around this new approach, legally cemented in a ministerial decree.
“To complement these efforts, I’ve been informed that the St. Maarten Carnival Development Foundation (SCDF) has already passed a new regulation for Carnival 2016 and beyond that would impose age restrictions for Carnival Village.
“The SCDF, as I understand it, would prohibit entrance of unsupervised youngsters 14 years of age or younger to adult-oriented shows while maintaining general entrance for youth-oriented shows. The SCDF will also be prohibiting booth holders from bringing their underage children to Carnival Village who stay there until 3:00am sometimes,” Leonard said.
Combined with fines on the road, she said, these efforts by the SCDF could be good first steps in achieving what all parties want to achieve without negatively affecting Carnival itself.
“Government should not play the role of parents, but rather remind parents of their responsibility of being the first line of defence in safeguarding their children. Parents owe a duty of care to their children and they must understand that they can be held legally liable for any harm that may befall their child once it has been discovered that they were negligent in discharging their responsibilities.”
Leonard plans to call on the Minister of Justice, SCDF and other relevant authorities to discuss this approach and at the least have a framework in place for the upcoming Carnival season.