Every parent and adult relative of children, as well as the children themselves, particularly boys, should heed the warning issued by Mr Jeremy Taylor at a recent anti-gang town hall meeting held by the Ministry of Education and the Jamaica Constabulary Force.
Mr Taylor, senior deputy director of public prosecutions, made it clear that adults who recruit children into gangs, as well as children who allow themselves to be enlisted, are committing criminal acts that come with dire consequences.
He explained that recruiting a child into a criminal organisation is an offence under the Criminal Justice (Suppression of Criminal Organizations) Act and attracts a sentence of 20 years. If the recruitment is done on a school compound or in the vicinity of a school, or any other educational institution, the sentence is increased by an additional 10 years.
According to Mr Taylor, the glory of gang involvement fades once there is an arrest that leads to a conviction. He pointed out that when youngsters are being recruited into gangs no thought is usually given to the possibility of arrest and prosecution.
Mr Taylor also told us that anyone on a gang charge finds it extremely difficult to be granted bail and he painted a very graphic picture of the upshot of that in an obvious effort to drive home the point.
Said Mr Taylor: "So here we have young boys and young girls, mothers and grandmothers, and so on, now have to be running down to police stations to bring you an extra pair of boxers or toothpaste and toothbrush, or to bring you food. And, on top of that, the police search up the food - all these kinds of indignities that you have to suffer. Nobody is thinking about that, nobody is thinking, 'Boy, if I go, if I actually get convicted, how long will I be locked away for?' "
Add to that Mr Taylor's explanation that someone at age 12 can be charged as an adult, and if you are 11 you may be taken out of your home and put in a place of safety or a detention facility and you get an idea of how half-witted and unprofitable it is for anyone, especially children, to get involved in gang activity.
Apparently, criminal activity triggers a feeling of invincibility among the people so involved, and it obviously gets worse when they are in possession of guns. Any ability they had for rational thought disappears because, as Mr Taylor correctly pointed out, they think their chosen path provides easy money, power, and social status.
However, those are short-term gains, as the law eventually catches up with these individuals and they are either incarcerated or terminated. These are the realities of a life of crime and they should be shared with the society, particularly children, as often as possible.
The education ministry and the police force, therefore, should think seriously about maintaining and strengthening the messages they shared with students during the just-ended Anti-Gang Week in Schools initiative.
The programme, as we have said before, is most commendable and will hopefully turn our youngsters away from lives of crime that can only end with their demise in violent circumstances.
But, we reiterate, it needs to be sustained, not only in schools, but in as many fora as possible across the island.