TSXM – GREAT BAY – Dutch television aired Jean Mentens’ documentary about Sint Maarten on Saturday. It is part of a trilogy under the moniker Caribbean Netherlands, three years later. The 25 minute production took viewers to places like Belvedere and Cay Hill – showing some of the poorest neighborhoods. Community police officer Helen Romeo-Christina, Dientje Muller and Rensley Henson are among those featured in the documentary. Youth prosecutor Karola van Nie is prominently present with an extensive view on the position of the youth on the island, and one community police officer reveals that girls as young as twelve end up in prostitution.
“Sint Maarten is a country under construction, but with an enormous amount of energy and the will to make something of it. At the same time there are a lot of limitations,” Van Nie says in the broadcast. “There is close to nothing that functions. We do not have a specific law book to tackle youth criminality, no youth detention, no youth facility and youth rehabilitation hardly exists. The Court of Guardianship – the equivalent of the Council for Child Protection in the Netherlands – does not function as it should either. On top of all this, we are confronted with youngsters that are capable of extreme violence.”
Prosecutor Van Nie notes that prevention is one of the issues for tackling youth criminality. “If you want to achieve a breakthrough in the extreme violence that young boys are capable of, you will have to take a look at the causes,” she says.
Those causes are to be found at home, Van Nie says later n in the broadcast. “My impression is that it starts with the violence that is used at home. The use of violence is considered normal. Cases of child abuse and ill-treatment are at times extreme. Youngsters are confronted with violence and get the message that this is normal. This use of violence continues in the schools against other students but also against teachers. Youngsters do not learn to resolve conflicts in a normal way; they use violence. By the time they end up in the criminal circuit they are capable of using extreme violence. They find it normal and they are rather surprised when this is punished with high sentences.”
Behind the violence is obviously another cause: poverty. Van Nie acknowledges this: “Mothers are often alone; they have two jobs, and they are hardly at home to look after their children. The poverty on this island is gigantic and kids are left to their own devices. If you want to achieve something and if you want to offer youngsters an alternative for a criminal career you will have to combat poverty.”
Van Nie says in the broadcast that there is a hard core of 10 to 15 youngsters that appear on the radar of the justice system every year. “They are left to their own devices in one-parent families where fathers are not taking their responsibility. What I see – and I find this shocking – is that robberies are committed here for relatively little gain, a couple of hundred dollars and sometimes less. But for that money youngsters are prepared to put a gun against somebody’s head.”
The camera crew did not only pay a visit to deprived neighborhoods, it also went to jewelers in Front Street and to the Catholic Church, where they found Rajesh Chintaman, a volunteer for the Bishop Ellis Foundation. Chintaman gave the crew another insight in poverty-levels in St. Maarten: “We are helping people mostly with food. Currently we are catering to 109 families – 341 people in total.”
Elsewhere the crew met with Jeston Gerrier, chairman of the Haitian community who pointed out that supermarkets and gas are expensive in St. Maarten and that salaries don’t keep up. “The minimum wage is 1,300 guilders, around 700 dollars. That is not much,” he said.
Beverly Bandon, at the day care center in Belvedere told the crew that her center caters to 180 children. Asked if there are enough of these centers on the island, she says after some thinking: “We probably need ten more.”
Community police officer Helen Romeo is shown during a visit to Cindy’s roti place opposite El Capitan in Sucker Garden. “We have a lot of mothers with a lot of problems,” Romeo says on camera. “Sometimes they let their daughters prostitute themselves in the Seaman’s Club or El Capitan. Little girls from the age of twelve and up end up in these places. So far I have it under control; I know all the homes where it happens.”