An Exploration of Youth Risk in the Carribean, through the Voices of Youth

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Unavoidable hazards exist in the Caribbean stemming from natural and environmental disasters: the spill off from using rapidly advancing technology for ill gain, the bombardment of foreign cultures through the electronic media, and the global economic crisis that is now at hand. The Literature portrays Caribbean youth as a group who are at risk to crime and gang violence, early initiation of sexual intercourse, teenage pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, and attrition from the education system. This study sought to define risks through the eyes of a sample of Caribbean youth in three territories: Jamaica, Haiti, and Trinidad, using focus group methodology, consultations with targeted groups, and indepth interviews. Youth from a range of social groups were invited to participate: youth in school and out of school, youth from affluent as well as impoverished communities, unemployed as well as employed youth, commercial sex workers, teenage mothers, hearing impaired, and youth from indigenous communities. The youth in general, identified risk as a necessary step in psychological development but recognized the inherent elements of chance. Risk taking was associated with cultural values, survival, poverty, group membership, as well as with immaturity, although the nature of risks was expected to change with age. Risks were taken while under the influence of peers and adults and even substances, though being counter to norms and the law. Risks that appeared to be successful to some youth actually constituted deviance. Specifically in Haiti, illegal immigration stood out as a risk, and the need for food security as a recommendation. Youth who were not engaged in risk-taking activities on the one hand are seen to be operating in fear, but on the other to be the product of effective education, taking good counsel and opportunities, and proper parenting; these were protective factors. Vulnerabilities included abduction, human trafficking, stigmatizing, victimization, crime, and exploitation of youth. Communities themselves have been sometimes stigmatized or targeted, exposing their youth to further risks. Community cohesiveness, however, appeared as a solution to risk reduction. Some youth expressed that they have little representation and their voices were not heard so they felt no impetus to participate in risk reduction. Some suggestions were offered by the participants in terms of building resilience in order to activate efficient life planning. Yet some youths felt hopeless and frustrated and understood while others in their milieu could be suicidal.

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