Gang violence takes rising toll in lives, threatens Caribbean economies, says UNDP

Feb 8, 2012

First Caribbean Human Development Report outlines recommendations to tackle increase in crime rate

Port of Spain - Crime has become one of the main challenges threatening economies and livelihoods in Caribbean countries, but the right mix of policies and programmes can halt the problem, according to the Caribbean Human Development Report 2012 launched here today by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). 

The report, Human Development and the Shift to Better Citizen Security, says that with the exception of Barbados and Suriname, homicide rates including gang-related killings have increased substantially in the last 12 years across the Caribbean, while they have been falling or stabilizing in other parts of the world.  

Although murder rates are exceedingly high by world standards, the report says that Caribbean governments can reverse the trend, calling for regional governments to beef up public institutions to tackle crime and violence —including the criminal justice system—while boosting preventive measures.

“Violence limits people’s choices, threatens their physical integrity, and disrupts their daily lives,” said UNDP Administrator Helen Clark at the report’s launch ceremony with Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and UNDP Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean Heraldo Muñoz.  

“This report stresses the need to rethink our approaches to tackling crime and violence and providing security on the ground. We need to follow approaches that are centered on citizen security and address the causes of this recent increase in violent crime, including social, economic, and political exclusion,” Helen Clark said.

The new study recommends that Caribbean governments implement youth crime prevention through education, as well as provide employment opportunities that target the marginalized urban poor. A shift in focus is needed it says, from a state protection approach to one that focuses on citizen security and participation, promoting law enforcement that is fair, accountable, and more respectful of human rights.
The Caribbean Human Development Report reviews the current state of crime as well as national and regional policies and programmes to address the problem in seven English- and Dutch-speaking Caribbean countries: Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago. 

Tackling the problem
Latin America and the Caribbean are home to 8.5 percent of the world population, yet the region accounts for some 27 percent of the world's homicides. Even though the total number of murders in Jamaica dropped after the report’s completion to 1,124 in 2011, a seven-year low, the country has the highest homicide rate in the Caribbean and the third-highest murder rate worldwide in recent years, with about 60 murders per 100,000 inhabitants. This is surpassed by only two Central American countries, El Salvador and Honduras with 66 and 82.1 murders respectively per 100,000 people says the report, citing UN Office on Drugs and Crime figures. In Trinidad and Tobago, the report notes that murder rates increased five-fold over a decade, to more than 40 per 100,000 in 2008, and then declined to 36 in 2010. 

The report states that gang-related homicides in Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago are “substantial and increasing”: The number almost doubled in both countries from 2006-2009.  In 2006, Jamaica experienced 1,303 homicides, of which 32.5 percent were gang-related. By 2009, the number of homicides had increased by 377; 48.1 percent were gang-related. In 2006, Trinidad and Tobago experienced 371 homicides, 26.4 percent gang-related; by 2009 the country reported 506 homicides, 34.8 percent gang-related.

Caribbean Community (CARICOM) estimates reveal the cost of gang-related crime is between 2.8 percent and four percent of gross domestic product in the region through both the cost of policing and as a result of lost income from youth incarceration and reduced tourism.  According to the study, crime costs Jamaica alone over US$529 million a year in lost income. In Trinidad and Tobago, a one percent reduction in youth crime would boost tourism revenue by US$35 million per year.  For every additional “gang” in a community, homicide rates increased by about 10 percent, according to a recent research featured in the Caribbean Human Development Report.

Crime erodes confidence in future development, reduces the competitiveness of existing industries and services, for example, by imposing burdensome security—and may deter investment, the report says. Education and health care also suffer when resources are diverted to law enforcement.
The following are key recommendations from the Report, which result from extensive consultations with 450 experts, practitioners, and leaders and reflect a large-scale survey with 11,555 citizens in the seven assessed countries: 

  • High rates of violent crime can be turned aroundby achieving a better balance between legitimate law enforcement and preventive measures, with a stronger focus on prevention
  • Governments should create or invest more in units to address gender-based violence and adopt more preventive measures to ensure that violence against girls and women is no longer tolerated;
  • Because crime harms social cohesion, Caribbean nations must better address youth violence and street gangs, whose crimes are rarely prosecuted
  • Public security requires community collaboration. Youth organizations and groups advocating for women’s rights, victims’ rights, and human rights should become more active, and Governments should commit to more actively engaging citizens.

The survey shows that the population wants governments to focus on crime prevention as well as control. Nearly 90 percent of citizens surveyed support preventive measures, such as increased investment in job creation, poverty reduction, education, and other initiatives to build youth skills and competencies. Meanwhile, some 80 percent said that “criminals should be punished more harshly.”  The poll also showed that four out of 10 citizens considered their countries capable of solving or better managing insecurity.

The new study also highlights other effects of crime that generally go unreported, such as low educational achievement and poor health among youth, physical and psychological pain, suffering and trauma caused by youth violence, reduced quality of life, the marginalization of youth and negative stereotypes that fuel further aggressive behaviour among young people.

Contact information

Port of Spain: François Coutu,,  +1 868 623 7056
Panama: Pablo Basz,, +507 6674 2224
New York: Carolina Azevedo,; +1 212 906 6127

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