An article in the Barbados TODAY edition on the 28th of September, 2012 stated that Barbadians between the ages of 15 to 29 will be mandated to give hundreds of hours of civic national service spread over two years. Added to challenges already confronting young people such as difficulty in finding employment although they are highly qualified, onerous tax rates if they do manage to secure employment, and a lack of recognition when achieving or surpassing objectives within the work-place, particularly government departments, the idea of mandatory national service is totally unacceptable.
The concept of the Barbados Youth Service based on voluntarism is based on the right philosophy where the choice to participate in such organisations and activities is made by individuals and not by governments. This right to choose, which part of the human right to privacy is mirrored by human rights such as the right to be a citizen of a country and the right to vote.
There are many other concerns I have about the idea. Firstly, the thinking behind compulsory youth service bears some similarity to military conscription, which has fallen into obsolescence, outside of countries such as Israel. Secondly, if you are studying at Polytechnic, Barbados Community College, University of West Indies or any other Tertiary or Technical institution, and is not prone to any anti-social behaviour, why should a young person be subjected to additional mandatory public service? Will “volunteers” be placed only in government-controlled programmes? If parents refuse to allow this group to participate in mandatory training will they be prosecuted for their actions? Is it possible to have the programme implemented across all socio-economic classes? Will members of the programme be able to organize or engage in protests, petitions, boycotts or strikes?
President Obama signed a similar piece of legislation known as the “Give Act” in April of 2009 targeted at certain groups, which really does not make me any more comfortable with the idea, but it is worth mentioning that over 6 million dollars was allocated towards persons to be paid who were involved in the “voluntary” activities.
So if by chance we decide to pay persons who are engaged in these activities can we afford it? (part E of the National Youth Policy) … especially in this economic climate? God forbid if we don’t plan to pay young people for their contributions will it amount to an avenue where government can gain free labour (see article).
It is worth mentioning that little data exists to support warranting national volunteerism. Therefore, one must ask the question what is the goal of the entire programme? In the national youth policy it speaks to mandatory service for youth with a goal of preventing the spread of gangs, and all they represent by helping young people to join positive groups. Will implementing national volunteerism achieve this goal?
On ending this article I want to say one very important thing. We must remember that God gave us the right to choose.
– Akanni Mc Dowall