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City of Banjul
Wednesday, April 17, 2024

To become someone

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With Aisha Jallow

A while ago I listened to the radio as I drove to work. It was a news broadcast and the topic was juvenile delinquency, aka criminal youth. This gone weekend I attended a political convention where one of the seminars was about the same topic. There were representatives from the police and a reformatory present to tell us about their work. While I was listening to the questions from the auditorium, I was thinking to myself: Why are we focusing mainly on crime and punishment? Children are not born criminal, so what went wrong?

There are many scapegoats; the parents, the school, the society, the religion and so on. We try to find the fault somewhere else instead of beginning to look at ourselves first. If we are lucky, our children are well-behaved and stay out of trouble. That is a blessing, but not everyone are that blessed. Everything begins in the home, that is a well-known fact, so even if the parents are considered good there is a need of some introspection. Not all parents are suited to be parents, they start too young and are not mature enough to care for their kids as they should. In old times people, especially girls were expected to marry young, but one of the reasons for that was the low life expectancy. Times were harder, people died of starvation, plagues and tribal wars. No one expected to live for very long so they had to take the opportunity to procreate as early as they could.

For some people, it is still tradition to get married young, but traditions are not carved into stones, traditions have always and will always be changed and evolved. When more and more people become educated, they also begin to question the old ”truths” and change them a bit to be implemented in the new times. Not all new ”truths” might be exceptional in the beginning, but when has humanity been that? Hopefully we learn from the past so we understand our present and can influence our future. This is why we study history, the kings and their battles are not the most important thing we learn. We must learn to reflect on the past so we don’t repeat the same mistakes our ancestors made.

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Look at the history of our families to begin with. The respect we feel for our elderly is nice, but we still can question the decisions they made without begin disrespectful. We can decide not to circumcise our girls because we understand the pain and the humiliation of the past generations. We can decide not to spank our children because we remember the pain and the fear from ourselves. We can learn from the past and not allow the future to go on repeat. We can learn to understand that our children understand much more than we thought. They learn from our actions and not only from our words. We can’t preach peace and live in violence.

Let us get back to the topic of this essay; to become someone. The person who spoke about juvenile delinquency told about some of the reasons for why very young people become criminals. We have children as young as 13 years old who have been lured to use firearms to kill someone. We speak about children with the wrong kind of rolemodels and a low self-esteem. These children often roam around in groups, they act tough to camouflage their fear. The older kids, or even young adults, can sniff where to find a new victim. They befriend them, promise them money, expensive gifts and status. In these gangs it is important to become someone, someone others look up to and even fear.

It is more or less like living in the jungle; the strongest survive and the weak ones disappear. Actually it is an insult to the animals of the jungle to compare them with how the members of the gangs are living. Animals don’t kill each other for fun or as revenge. Animals kill each other for food or to protect their flock, they don’t calculate who to kill just because they want to be respected. The human brain is not fully developed until the age of 23, and the last part to develop is the part that understands consequences. Before that part is fully functioning we must depend on people following the rules, either because they are well behaved or for the fear of doing wrong.

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I stated at the beginning of this essay that children are not born criminal, so what went wrong? There are many factors to consider; the upbringing is one of them. A child growing up with both parents, with strict rules but without enough love can walk astray because it feels that no matter how it behaves it will never be good enough anyway. A child growing up with only one parent instead can become a good member of the society because that parent made wise decisions and cared for its child with a balance between love and rules. We so often blame single parents as the main reason for why some kids go astray, but that is not always a fact.

Let us look at a diagnosis called ADHD, Attention Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder.

It is normal for children to have trouble focusing and behaving at one time or another. However, children with ADHD do not just grow out of these behaviors. The symptoms continue, can be severe, and can cause difficulty at school, at home, or with friends.

A child with ADHD might:

o          daydream a lot

o          forget or lose things a lot

o          squirm or fidget

o          talk too much

o          make careless mistakes or take unnecessary risks

o          have a hard time resisting temptation

o          have trouble taking turns

o          have difficulty getting along with others

The scientists have been looking at the causes of ADHD, and in many cases it is a matter of genetics, that it is inherited from either of the parents.

In addition to genetics, scientists are studying other possible causes and risk factors including:

o          Brain injury

o          Exposure to environmental risks during pregnancy or at a young age

o          Alcohol and tobacco use during pregnancy

o          Premature delivery

o          Low birth weight

The brain injury can be caused by a fall or by heavily shaking the baby to silence it when the baby is crying loudly. Immature parents don’t know how to comfort the baby and is instead trying to scaring it to silence.

Looking at the environmental risks, we immediately think of the babies on their mothers’ backs while picking valuable trash at a dump yard. These babies inhale the toxic smoke of the burning trash which is not only affecting their lungs but also their brains. The use of alcohol and tobacco during pregnancy is affecting the baby in the womb. The alcohol and the smoke go through the mother’s blood system and carried through the umbilical cord into the baby’s blood. The baby is affected by these toxines and has a low birth weight. The baby’s lungs are under developed so the newborn baby is very vulnerable to illnesses.

Many of our criminals suffer from ADHD, in my society we are aware of that, nowadays, but this knowledge is not spread internationally. The relief is that this kind of

neuropsychiatric challenges often become better with age, but as these can cause a lot of trouble for those who are affected by it, we need to learn more so we can offer the right kind of help and support. When we all grow up in a safe and loving environment, we realize that we already are somebody, we don’t have to become something or someone else. We are enough.

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