BY PETRE WILLIAMS-RAYNOR Career & Education editor email@example.com
THE vicious rape and murder of women and children in recent weeks is a clarion call for a comprehensive social approach to fighting crime, one that takes full account of at-risk boys and young men in Jamaica.
This is the argument of anthropologist of social violence Dr Herbert Gayle, who has described Jamaica's current crime rate of upwards of 30 per cent as being indicative of a society at war with itself.
"There is no social commitment to boys and that is where the bigger problem is. There are nine areas in which males suffer in Jamaica," Gayle said, citing his 2002 study Adolescent Male Survivability in Jamaica.
The study notes that compared to teenage girls, adolescent males in Jamaica are more likely to:
* be outnumbered and outperformed in school;
* to be physically abused at school and at home;
* to be on the street and out of school;
* to experience domestic accidents;
* to experience violence and other such trauma;
* to use harmful drugs;
* to commit suicide and not just attempt to do so;
* not to receive support from parents, relatives, educators, agency personnel; and
* to be below the radar, unseen, unnoticed, unattended.
Given this reality, Gayle said, it is not surprising that it is boys and young men who are the perpetrators of such vicious acts of sexual and other violence as have been experienced on the island recently.
Those acts have extended beyond the rape of the five females — including an eight-year-old girl and two teenagers — at Irwin Point in St James on September 24, the accused being two brothers, one of them in his early 20s and the other, about 18 years old.
A week later, on October 1, another young woman was raped and killed in Trelawny and her body stashed beneath a bed in a house occupied by the alleged perpetrator. Then, just a few weeks ago, an elderly woman was beheaded, reportedly by her 19-year-old grandson.
According to Gayle, "the social neglect of boys in Jamaica begins from breastfeeding."
Citing a UNICEF study, Gayle noted that boys were less likely to be breastfed by their mothers — a statement borne out by data on Jamaica from the UNICEF website: http://www.unicef.org/jamaica/early_childhood.html.
"According to the 2005 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, only 45 per cent of lactating mothers breastfeed exclusively at six weeks, and only about one third (33.7 per cent) do so for three months. Only 15 per cent of children under six months are exclusively breastfed, denying thousands of children the vital nutritional benefits of breast milk. Boys are half as likely as girls to benefit from the practice (10.3 per cent and 19.5 per cent respectively)," the website said.
"There has to be programmes, backed by policy, that protect boys; the society cannot only be built on just protecting girls. You cannot have a gang unless there is recruitment, and who is the number one victim of recruitment? A hungry, neglected boy. That is your [Lee Boyd] Malvo," he said, referencing the young convicted Jamaican-born sniper who is now serving time for murder in the United States.
He said social safety nets are required to serve families in need.
"Jamaica is the prime place to recruit a sniper or a killer because we don't have any policy here where if parents are not doing well, the society picks up the slack," the anthropologist said.
"If a single mother, for example, is unemployed, she should be on a list to get food. PATH [the programme for advancement through health and education] should be so well developed that that mother is protected, because otherwise, if it's a boy she produces, we are in trouble. That is what the Young Birds That Know Storm 2008 study told us," Gayle added.
In that study, he said the sons of mothers who prostituted themselves or who were involved with multiple partners became angry, violent youth.
"The four boys between six and eight years old in the study had already fired guns; all four of them, their mothers were prostitutes with no support. There was no uncle, no sister, nobody helping," said Gayle.
"Also, these boys are hungry and they are also suffering from attachment disorder known as monotropy [which is the school of thought that says children are genetically programmed to form attachments to a single caregiver and that it is healthy for emotional development]. A boy must be attached to his mother; otherwise, he will be unstable," he added.
Psychologist Dr Pearnel Bell said research done into the area does indicate a connection between how boys are nurtured and how they later treat women.
"Interestingly, men who become sociopaths in society, like who go out trying to harm women, are found to have been reared by very domineering, harsh mothers who execute a kind of authoritarian type of discipline," she told the Sunday Observer.
"So there could be some kind of correlation with poor nurturing, especially from mothers, that could make these men want to attack women in such a barbaric manner," she added.
Poor parenting generally, Bell said, is also a problem.
"Parenting practices just have a gender bias, and boys tend to be reared differently from girls. That is something that is well known. But, for me, the difference really is that current parenting practices are really not in keeping with promoting the kind of qualities that will help to develop young boys into real men," she said.
"I also believe that the lack of the father figure in the home who would teach the young men how to engage with the opposite sex is not there. And the absence of the male figure in the home, many times because of contentious situations, has led to many of the women taking out their frustration and their anger on these young boys and young men," Bell added.
According to Gayle, the current social reality of many boys and young men is something that requires immediate attention.
"In our socialisation of boys, we have missed the mark. Yes, they need to be tough, but they also need a frame of protection and they have to be attached to somebody, primarily their mothers. If they are suffering from attachment disorders, somebody is going to attach them to a gang; I have never found a single gang member who doesn't have an attachment problem," added the anthropologist, who has extensive experience studying gang behaviour in and outside Jamaica.
Gayle says the first order of business must be to ensure boys are in school.
"When you look at educational participation of men, Jamaica is the second worst in the world. For every 100 males in education [school], there are 123 females in Lesotho [which is the worst in the world] and Jamaica is 117 women to every 100 men," he told the Sunday Observer.
"So we have to a protective frame for young men. There have to be networks of nurture; church, homework centres, community centres... Boys are not impossible to rescue, but there has to be a system," he emphasised.