Marriage matters

Marriage matters

Helene Coley Nicholson

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

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Countries in which slavery existed have the highest rate of children being born out of wedlock. In Jamaica, more children are born out of wedlock than anywhere else in the world. Fourteen per cent are born to parents who are married to each other, while 86 per cent are not.

This is according to renowned family psychologist and chief executive officer of Family Life Ministries, Dr Barry Davidson, who says the only places that can be compared to Jamaica are places like Barbados, Antigua, St Kitts and other countries with a similar background. Dr Davidson says if you also look at black Americans you will find that they too have a very high rate of children being born out of wedlock when compared with Hispanics or white Americans.

This is because slaves were never socialised to be good fathers and mothers, wives and husbands. Slavery was not about people getting married. Rather, it was about a man impregnating a woman with male slaves socialised to be studs. The aim was to produce as many slaves as possible, just as a farmer hopes to have as many head of cattle as possible.

During slavery, the only person who had the opportunity to practise any kind of parenting was the female. It was important for the female to raise the children so that they would grow up to be slaves of value to the slave master. The male was deprived of any opportunity to be a father. As a result, a lot of today’s males do not understand what it means to be a father and a husband.

Interestingly, despite their slavery experience, Trinidad and Guyana have a very low rate of children born outside of marriage, due to the large number of East Indians who later came as indentured servants.

Nearly 200 years after slavery, Jamaicans and people of African descent have not been able to break the back of this high rate of children being born out of wedlock. Psychologists explain that quite often, when children grow up in a situation where their parents were not married, the possibility of the child continuing that behaviour is very high. Children internalise the values and behaviours of their parents. Boys become like their fathers and girls are likely to behave in ways similar to their mothers. This process of internalisation is called introjection.

Statistics confirm that children who grow up with a mother and father in a committed relationship are likely to do better than those who grow up with parents who have visiting relationships. Jamaican children are said to have about a 50/50 chance of being born within a cohabiting union or within a visiting relationship between parents. A steady union in which parents are committed to each other and stay with each other is best for children.

In an inspiring interview on television recently, international sprint star Usain Bolt declared he will not have children until he gets married. He said it is in his and his partner’s best interest that he does not have more than one woman at a time, and if he decides that she is not someone he wants to spend his life with he would prefer to break off the relationship before entering into another. This ordinary man with an extraordinary talent, arguably the most naturally gifted athlete the world has ever seen, said once he has made up his mind that this person is the one, he is going to get married, and it is at that point that he is going to have children. He sees marriage as an institution that allows children to feel a sense of security and plays a very important part in enhancing the family relationship. Usain disclosed that his parents, Wellesley and Jennifer Bolt, lived together for 12 years before they got married. Wellesley had three children with three different women. After his parents got married, Usain said his experience was a positive one and that is what he wants for any child he brings into this world.

Marriage matters. It says to somebody I really value you to the point that I want to commit myself to you. Apart from making a woman feel valuable, worthy, capable, special, and secure, marriage is extremely important to society. It has been recognised that a family in which marriage is the base provides children with a tremendous sense of emotional and mental well-being. Children need to experience love from their parents and, very importantly, they need to see their parents loving each other.

Last Saturday, February 13, over 100 couples from inner-city communities across Kingston, St Andrew and St Catherine attended the fifth annual Valentine’s Day Banquet on the lawns of Family Life Ministries. The banquet is an initiative of the ministry to promote marriage and reduce the number of children being born out of wedlock. Couples got the opportunity to relax, forget their stressful environments and lovingly court each other on the night. The aim was to impress on them the need to commit to building and stabilising their family by entering into the more secure environment of marriage for them and their children. Couples who decided to take the step will receive free pre-marital counselling.

Speaking about Valentines’ Day and beyond, Dr Davidson said: "I would love to see marriage celebrated as a positive, as something good. I’d like to see people recognising the need to do pre-marital counselling before getting married. I would like to see churches finding ways to enrich the institution of marriage to help people learn how to live within marriage. I would love to see marriages being helped so that children find the marriages of their parents attractive and would like to follow their parents."

Helene Coley Nicholson is an attorney-at-law and president of the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship. Send comments to the Observer or

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