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UN Report Highlights Crime Problem in the Caribbean

February 29, 2012

by Jaevion Nelson

Two regrettable constants throughout the Caribbean region are that insecurity threatens human development and that crime and violence stymie economic prosperity. Research has upheld the latter; violence discourages tourism, foreign direct investment and business expansion. Crime has negative impacts on people’s livelihoods, mental wellbeing, socioeconomic status, and political freedom.

In 2010, the Caribbean had an intentional homicide rate of 21 percent per 100,000 people, a three-percentage-point increase from 2004. Barbados and Suriname have shown relatively low homicide rates over a 20-year timeframe, from 1990 to 2010. The World Bank reported in 2007 that crime is so costly, that if it were to be controlled in Jamaica alone, Jamaica’s gross domestic product would increase by 5.4 percent annually.

The UN Development Program (UNDP) is doing a commendable job of highlighting these devastating effects, in part through its recent publication of “Caribbean Human Development Report 2012: Human Development and the Shift to Better Citizen Security.” This is the UNDP’s first-ever Caribbean-specific report on human development, and UNDP Administrator Helen Clark visited Trinidad & Tobago earlier this month to launch it. The report provides an assessment on the state of crime in Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Lucia, Suriname, and Trinidad & Tobago—and gives space to the national and regional policies and programs that these countries are enacting to address it. It ultimately states: “the Caribbean cannot achieve sustainable well-being and enjoy the fruits of its efforts toward progress unless its people can be secure in their daily lives.”

Here is a graphic from the UNDP report of homicide rates across the seven selected countries, as indicated from 1990 to 2010:

This graph demonstrates that the homicide rate has risen substantially in Trinidad & Tobago and fluctuated—but trended mostly upward—in Antigua & Barbuda, Guyana and St. Lucia since 2000.

Administrator Clark acknowledges these realities. As she stated in Port of Spain a few weeks ago at the report launch, “for countries in this region and elsewhere, high levels of violence and crime jeopardize development progress. They stifle economic growth, by, for example, adversely affecting the investment climate and tourism numbers.  They increase the cost of law enforcement and of health care for victims, thereby crowding out expenditure on development.”

Caribbean nations must now respond to this critical report and drastically rethink their approaches to tackling crime. They should develop an overall strategy that encourages broad-based involvement from myriad non-state actors, including civil society and the private sector, to promote social inclusion. Effective policymaking is, after all, dependent on empirical data, so programs and interventions in the medium and long terms must be based on indicative success in the shorter term in order to respond to the needs and priorities of the people. These seven Caribbean nations could start by adopting some of the key recommendations from the UNDP report:

•    Achieve a better balance between legitimate law enforcement and preventive measures, with a stronger focus on prevention;
•    Create—or invest in—more units to address gender-based violence, and adopt more preventive measures to eliminate it;
•    Implement a stronger focus on addressing youth violence and street gangs, whose crimes often go with impunity;
•    Make crime prevention a community issue, and stress universal involvement in stopping violence

How does this issue relate to social inclusion? Crime disproportionately affects poor and marginalized people the mst, and governments in turn often provide little investment in social services for these impacted communities. Poorer citizens find it difficult to access justice and legal systems, and they don’t believe the government is working for them. Legal aid is often overburdened with cases. Hence, school districts with the littlest resources and high unemployment stymie social mobility and indirectly encourage crime.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. As Prime Minister of Trinidad & Tobago Kamla Persad-Bissessar advised earlier this month alongside Administrator Clark, “we must be guided by the findings of the [UNDP report], whose central message focuses on the necessary transformation of the relationship between citizen and state, and the adoption of a citizen-centered approach to security.” This is an encouraging step toward progress.

Tags: Barbados, Crime, violence, Jamaica, United Nations, Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago, Antigua & Barbuda, St. Lucia, Suriname

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