We must encourage responsible fatherhood to reduce crime


Saturday, July 02, 2016

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As we grapple with the current spike in murders, I want to turn attention to one of the causal factors of our high rate of violent crime — paternal deprivation or fatherlessness.

Jamaica pays a high price for fatherlessness which is manifested in a host of social, economic and behavioural problems affecting both boys and girls, their families, and the wider society. As a nation, we need to squarely confront this issue.

As a former minister of national security, I am very familiar with the casualties of fatherlessness as the crime statistics are in many ways the outcome of failures at the level of parenting.

The truth is that fatherlessness is weighing us down and choking our efforts at development and achieving a safer country.

The studies reveal that most gang members who feature in violent crimes grew up without a father in their lives. Jamaica has an unenviable record regarding the fathering of children outside of committed relationships. The majority of Jamaican children have birth certificates without a father’s name.

We must reverse this trend if we are to give our future generations a better chance at living more fulfilled lives. The experts tell us that the first three years are the most critical in a child’s development and that by the time they are 12, the path for children is substantially determined. It is important that fathers are actively engaged in their children’s lives.

Research done in the Caribbean, the United States and the United Kingdom show that fatherless children are 11 times more likely to display violent behaviour; nine times more likely to run away from home, becoming victims or perpetrators of crime; twice as likely to drop out of school; six times more likely to have behavioural disorders; six times more likely to end up in prison; nine times more likely to become gang members and more than twice as likely to experience teen pregnancy, among other outcomes.

A key component of the Unite For Change (UFC) initiative, which I launched in 2013, was geared at educating citizens about the root causes of our epidemic of violence — igniting their passions, energies and commitment to reverse it, and creating sustainable pathways to empower affected persons to move from concern to action. Promoting responsible fatherhood and good parenting have been vital components of the initiative.

A good measure of the level of success achieved by the UFC initiative to date has been the amount and range of the partnerships it has generated including both public, private and non-governmental agencies and institutions. These include: the National Parenting Support Commission, the National Association of the Family, the Child Development Agency, the Office of the Children’s Advocate, Citizens Security and Justice Programme, National Neighbourhood Watch Programme, the Jamaica Constabulary Force and the Council of Voluntary Social Services.

Unite For Change has promoted and/or sponsored family oriented programmes such as the popular 10,000 Men and Family March, the National Association for the Family’s fatherlessness seminars, and conducting a parenting village in May Pen, Clarendon.

The UFC ran a successful media campaign in traditional and new media which achieved a high degree of buy-in among both parents and youth, with one social media commercial receiving over 50,000 views within two weeks of its posting.

The message of the UFC, in partnership with Peace for Champs, also resonated at the popular Boys’ and Girls’ Athletic Championships which saw a significant reduction in incidents of violence sparked by school rivalry and other factors.

Additionally, the UFC launched an innovative Stay Alert smartphone app which allows users to anonymously upload text, photographs or video of criminal or suspected criminal activity to the National Intelligence Bureau. The app also features a panic button that sends a distress signal to Police Control, as an alternative to the 119 emergency telephone number option.

There is no doubt that fatherlessness is socially destructive and this has implications for all of society. Even the names of some of our violent gangs are telling such as the ‘Fatherless Crew’.

Psychologists report that the absence of fathers makes girls and boys more susceptible to a range of abuses due in many instances to a diminished self-concept and compromised physical and emotional security.

My focus on fathers in this article is by no means meant to diminish the amazing efforts of single mothers who continue to raise healthy, happy and well adjusted children, despite the absence of responsible fathers to lend physical, emotional, and financial support.

Until we successfully tackle the root causes of crime, Jamaica will forever be struggling with a high crime rate. Responsible parenting, and especially responsible fathering, is perhaps the most important contributing factor in urgent need of fixing.

Peter M Bunting, a mechanical engineer and financial specialist, is Member of Parliament for Manchester Central and People’s National Party spokesman on national security.

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