By Malcolm Strachan
IN September 2011, 11-year-old Marco Archer left his home to go to the store, never to return to the loving arms of his mother. We all know how tragically this story ended for this family.
Five days after Marco left to go to the store to buy some candy, he was found dead.
In a nation, as small as ours, certain crimes have such resonance they reverberate throughout the entire country. The murder and abduction of young Marco served as the catalyst for a sexual offender registry and an alert system similar to the AMBER alert system used in the United States and Canada.
Yet, despite it now being eight years and three administrations since Marco’s death, we have yet to firmly implement mechanisms to protect our children.
The late former Minister of National Security, Dr Bernard Nottage, first tabled the amended Child Protection Act, also known as Marco’s Law, in Parliament in December 2013. Its contents held that once a child reported missing is presumed to be at risk of death or injury, the Commissioner of Police is given the authority to dispatch an alert via commercial radio stations, television broadcasts, teletexts, electronic networks systems and billboards.
Although, at the time, this was thought to be a huge step towards modernising child protection laws in the country, in hindsight, it didn’t seem like anything more than the government kicking the tyres with no real movement in child protection.
Despite the former national security minister proclaiming the alert system was activated in 2016, three years later, under a new administration, we’re still waiting to see evidence of this claim.
What’s worse is that since mid-February, we’ve seen a number of close calls where children have been abducted and, thankfully, found alive. While we’re grateful that the innocence of these young children has been left intact, the peculiarity and danger of these occurrences should not go unnoticed.
With no suspects and only a composite sketch to go off, the police do not seem to be making any headway. While it is not common for us to experience crimes of this sort and especially at this frequency, we must allow ourselves to consider the what-if factor.
What if these instances had gone another way?
We have been reminded two-fold of the sheer horror that one family experienced almost eight years ago, as well as successive governments’ failure to prevent history from repeating itself.
When interviewed by the media, Marco’s mother, Tryphemia Meadows, said: “I don’t know why they [haven’t done anything] but they need to work on that and work on that fast because children [are] getting hurt and it’s so sad. You know, these are just innocent children.”
She added: “All I can say to [Minister of National Security Marvin Dames] is to please hurry and deal with it because I know [there are] a lot of children out there who are at risk.”
In listening to her speak, you can still feel the raw emotion stirred with every report of a child being abducted, as it will always serve as a reminder of her little boy who never made it back home.
Notable members of society have also called on the government to hasten the full implementation of Marco’s Law. Bishop Simeon Hall chastised both former and current administrations for dragging their feet in this regard.
“Indeed, to better equip the Bahamian public to assist the police in the protection of children should rank high on our national priorities. Persons convicted of harming children do not belong in civilised society,” Bishop Hall said.
“Bahamians most times are too passive and we sometimes allow the problems of crime to make us indifferent to crime.”
He is right. Our passivity perhaps is the only explanation as to why we are still having discussions about “when” it will be fully implemented after eight years of promises, instead of celebrating its results.
In its place, we are continually given reassurances by National Security Minister Marvin Dames that the MARCO Alert’s implementation is a priority of the government. Meanwhile, five children have been kidnapped in four different instances – three in a 24-hour period.
While it is often tempting to point fingers and blame parents, we have to wonder if the police force is willing to admit that our streets are not safe enough for our children to play outside. After all, that is how many of us grew up.
Despite this, Chief Superintendent of the Central Detective Unit (CDU) Solomon Cash admonished parents to “provide better supervision” to their children.
“We don’t expect them to have their young kids walking about the streets as if they are adults,” he said.
“If you are going to send them out to public areas, you should have them supervised by an adult.”
Certainly, parents have a role to play in ensuring the safety of their children. However, we can’t shout from the mountaintops that the only danger in The Bahamas exists in the drug and gang culture if you’re the police force, and then on the other hand, imply that it is not safe for children to be outside playing with their friends.
Rather, it is incumbent on the entire community - parents, neighbours and law enforcement - to provide a safety net for our kids to engage in outside play without the threat of a child predator abducting them.
Jurisdictions that have acknowledged this, along with incorporating alert systems and sexual offender registers, have also implemented counter-intelligence surveillance systems – essentially watching who is doing the watching to stay a step ahead of these offenders.
In an interview with CSO Magazine, a publication that features insights and trends in the security industry, former Secret Service special agent Chris Falkenberg discussed measures to prevent a kidnapping in the wake of the Great Recession. He noted that key to any successful arsenal was the installation of a CCTV programme, as it gives law enforcement an advantage in preventing a kidnapping.
Typically, most kidnappings are preceded by a certain degree of planning, according to Falkenberg. Therefore, with an effective counter-surveillance infrastructure in place, law enforcement will have a good chance at intervening, detecting, or deterring a threat.
Unfortunately, CCTV is another programme that has had little movement under the direction of multiple administrations. Although its implementation can broadly reduce crime, this has also been an area where questions as to why it is taking so long to come fully online continue to float around. Nonetheless, Minister of National Security Marvin Dames is hopeful the government’s $3.3m expansion of the programme will be completed before the end of June – just three months away.
In the meantime, parents must continue to be vigilant. Neighbours have to work together in being responsible for each other’s children. And the government must firmly implement all the systems required by law enforcement and the courts to remove these menaces out of civilised society.
The indifference among us which allows us to accept this “new normal” amid the erosion of our social fabric must be consistently checked within ourselves. Certainly, to go from the nation today to the one we desire tomorrow, me must put in the hard work necessary to become a better society.