The roots of a violent, disordered society

Letters to the Editor

The roots of a violent, disordered society

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

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Dear Editor,

In my early medical career as a clinician at a rural public hospital in central Jamaica I was about to administer care to a toddler who was about three years old. To my shock and disbelief, the toddler, whose speech was not fully developed, reeled off what was clearly recognised expletives demanding that I leave him alone. It does not take a rocket scientist to realise that this young child, like any other in their formative years, was simply reflecting what was modelled around him at home.

Researchers and child development experts have long established that individuals who make up communities and the wider society are primarily the products of their home environment, in particular the quality of parenting involving father and mother they received in their formative years; ie, the first eight years of life. During these critical years of early child development the interplay between rapid brain development and the environment has arguably the most significant impact on character-building in an individual's life. This includes discovering identity and purpose and developing positive values and attitudes which will become the foundation on which all aspects of their lives are built, including the approach to interpersonal relationships, in particular future family relationships.

Experts have further established that there are two critical requirements for optimum early child development which will lay the foundation for a healthy, productive, non-violent adulthood displaying positive values and attitudes. These are: 1) family structure and stability; and 2) loving and engaging family relationships, between parents and children, and that modelled between father and mother in the presence of their children.

The extent to which these are missing or compromised will determine the risk of negative outcomes in later life, including a violent disposition and the absence of positive values and attitudes. Of course, this risk is exacerbated by ubiquitous negative cultural influences, especially in the absence of parental guidance and with varying degrees of fatherlessness. The evidence could not be more compelling, children who grow up in intact, lifelong married households are significantly less likely to experience poor emotional health and a violent disposition.

Is it therefore mere coincidence that, with roughly half of Jamaican households headed by females, and the country having one of, if not the highest out-of-wedlock birth rate in the world, 85 per cent, that the nation is experiencing one the highest murder rates in the world with a growing level of violence and criminal activity, especially among our youth and in our homes?

Is it mere coincidence that, with a movement away from the institution of marriage and the absence of good role models reflecting healthy marriages in too many of our homes, there is an increasingly pervasive cultural practice of loose sexual relationships and infidelity linked according to research to recurrent spikes of domestic violence and murder-suicides?

The question, therefore, is: How do we achieve community and societal transformation from this protracted scourge of violence and disorder, painfully and repeatedly drawn to our attention in shocking videos and media reports?

This writer has repeatedly made the case that, while it is necessary and important to implement or strengthen security measures at our schools and other public institutions, to arm our teachers or train them in self-defence; to provide care and support for victims of domestic violence; to encourage males to 'tek bun and move on'; to strengthen our justice system and have anti-gang legislation, until the roots of violence and disorder are addressed in our homes there will not be real community and societal transformation. Until there are laws, policies, and adequately funded interventions to decisively and comprehensively promote and protect marriage and the family, especially among our youth, Jamaica and other nations will continue to grapple with this deadly issue of violence and disorder for the foreseeable future.

Protection of the family is indeed a fundamental human right, as indicated in article 16.3 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which states: “The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society, and is entitled to protection by society and the State.”

Dr Michael Coombs

Public Health Specialist

Founder Chair, National Association for the Family

Former Board Member, National Parenting Support Commission

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