August 12 was celebrated as international youth day. Not that very many Jamaican youth would know. Or care. To them, it would be just another day, because unless they had been involved in something like acing GSATs, getting 10 CSEC subjects, or winning Olympic gold medals, they'd probably feel like the country doesn't care very much about them anyway ... probably.
And that's probably the way British youth felt, too, when they decided to take to the streets in what was intended to be a peaceful protest over the police shooting of 29-year-old Mark Duggan earlier this month. Twelve hours later, there was mayhem and madness - looting, burning ... a full-fledged riot was on. And it was youth at the helm.
While there is widespread consensus on what happened during the riots, divergent views abound as to why it happened. Was it the result of British morality's demise? Was it the inevitable outworking of selfishness groomed in this 'me-first' generation? Was it just a bunch of black Brit opportunists spreading their nihilistic culture (ask David Starkey about that)? Or were the rioters desperate, frustrated, unemployed and dispossessed youth finally getting their nation's attention?
Well, what if they were the latter?
In a Guardian article titled 'Looting Fuelled By Social Exclusion', Alexandra Topping quoted Professor John Pitts, youth culture expert, as saying that most of the rioters were from "low-income, high-unemployment estates" without "legitimate futures". He said, "Much of this was opportunism but in the middle of it there is a social question to be asked about young people with nothing to lose."
The Washington Post editorial of August 9 noted that "This is becoming a year of rebellion by the dispossessed." Their portentous warning: "At a time of economic disruption, no country is immune from such upheaval." No country. Especially not Jamaica.
The BBC identified 18 to 24-year-old English youth who are not in employment, education or training as NEET (capitalised for emphasis). Pointing out that 18.4% of England's youth population is in that predicament, the news service identified several contributing factors: cutbacks in career services, the discontinuation of the Education Maintenance Allowance, lessening youth apprenticeships, and a general disregard for the growing levels of disempowerment, dissatisfaction and unemployment among youth.
This is where it gets interesting, because over the years, Jamaica has seen a growing discontent among its own youth population. The Gleaner's editorial of August 16 drew parallels between Britain's situation and ours, noting that nearly 60 per cent of Jamaicans 15-29 are either unemployed or out of the workforce altogether: "That is nearly 400,000 young people. Perhaps 100,000 youth of school age are 'unattached' - they are not in school, not engaged in other forms of training, nor have jobs". That's our NEET.
The editorial went on to note that "it is largely from this group of jobless and largely unemployable youth that come the perpetrators of so much antisocial behaviour and who commit, or are victims of, 80 per cent of the country's murders". That's our NEET's story. They're not rioting yet, but they are well on their way. We'd do well to heed Gleaner's closing warning:
"If you hear a ticking, it may just be a time bomb among these drifting, disenchanted youth. The urgent task for policymakers is to find a way to defuse it."
* This post was originally composed for my blog, http://ruthibelle.blogspot.com.