A state of pubic emergency

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

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Jamaica has too many unwanted children. Babies born out of wedlock, young ones brought up by a single parent, usually by a mother who is likely to be dealing with more than one babyfather. Despite the fact that recent statistics have revealed that the country has an aging population, and that fewer births are being recorded, there are numerous children in our midst who have not experienced the love or caring attention of a father.

In many cases, these are the same kids who are susceptible to a life of indiscipline, crime, unemployment, and a violent way of life. They are the generation of vipers, the “shottas” and babymothers, those misfits and miscreants whom former Minister of Education Ronald Thwaites referred to as “leggo beasts”! And some time ago, another Government minister declared that they were irredeemable following in the line of thinking of a former national security minister, the late Dudley Thompson, who remarked that no angels were killed at Green Bay in the wake of that alleged ambush and massacre of some inner-city young men deemed to be unrepentant criminals.

It is no secret that many, if not most of the crimes being committed on a daily basis in our beloved country are done by young individuals who grew up in an environment bereft of sound parental guidance and nurturing. In this regard, so many of our men are mere sperm donors while our women, usually for financial reasons or blind love, give themselves willingly for sexual pleasures in a desperate bid to find security and a stable family life. But, alas, this very rarely is the case. Instead, traditionally, it has been the classic scenario of “my mother who fathered me” being played out all over the island.

In a 2012 Jamaica Observer news article by Alicia Sutherland, 'Breeders, not fathers', family psychologist Dr Barry Davidson, who was addressing a conference on effective parenting in Mandeville, is quoted as saying that slavery was to be blamed for the failure of many Jamaican men to adequately fulfil their role as fathers. As the story goes, “...many Afro-Jamaican men from all classes are struggling to be good fathers. He believes many men, regardless of social class, were not taught or properly socialised to be good dads and noted that, while the problem is mostly visible among the poor, it also exists among middle and upper class Jamaican males who can provide financially for their children, but often neglect them emotionally”. He concludes that during slavery men were only to be breeders and not fathers.

In that same article, Custos Rotulorum of Manchester Sally Porteous agreed with the psychologist, observing that, “It cannot be denied that the breakdown of parenting has contributed to the kind of angry, violent and deviant behaviour that exists in our society today.” Those words will continue to haunt this nation for as long as we continue to ignore this social phenomenon. Yes, there has been much talk and sermonising backed up by research findings and policy directives, but the bottom line is that our men and women need to pay more attention to how they utilise their pubic area with respect to the propagating of unwanted children. Indeed, what is wanted is a state of pubic emergency!

In the meantime, two accompanying factors that negatively impact the matter of unwanted children is the prevalence of homophobia (or so it seems) and the spectre of “jackets”. In the case of the former, many fathers are afraid of hugging their sons and telling them they love them because they may be deemed to be or turn out to be homosexual. There is also the old cultural practice of “tie the heifer and let go the bull”. In other words, girls are tethered and domesticated while the boys are allowed to become in real terms “leggo beasts”!

A “jacket”, as we all know, is when a man is fooled into fathering a child that is not his genetically. Anecdotal accounts would suggest that there are many such children out there and, in many cases, men who believe that they are getting “bun” (being cheated on) reject such a child and refuse to provide any form of maintenance or parental guidance.

Despite the widespread public awareness programmes encouraging the use of a condom, unprotected sex is still very prevalent, especially among people. And even when a condom is used, many Jamaican men in the lower stratum of society believe in rough sex, so in some instances the condom bursts during the act and this leads to an unwanted pregnancy, and ultimately an unwanted child.

Lest we forget, the biblical prophecy about children having children rings so true in Jamaica, land we love. Teenage pregnancy abounds here and this undesirable situation is further compounded by incest, as well as the irresponsible and predatory acts of stepfathers forcing themselves on young girls sometimes with the consent of their mothers or their just turning a blind eye because of economic necessity. In all of this, we are faced with the continuing spectacle of children getting the bitter end of the stick.

In another Jamaica Observer article published in 2014 and headlined 'Absence of fathers in homes described as social emergency', Dr Michael Coombs, founder of the National Association for the Family, at its launch, stated that “85 per cent of Jamaican children were born out of wedlock”, which was perhaps the highest in the world. He noted that, “Research done in the United States and here in the Caribbean indicate that fatherless children are 11 times more likely to display violent behaviour, nine times more likely to run away from home, twice as likely to drop out of school, nine times more likely to become gang members, and more than twice as likely to experience teen pregnancies.”

So there are the zone of special operations (ZOSO) initiative and the state of public emergency (SOPE) effort, but this nation had better wake up and face the fact that unless serious plans, projects and programmes are devised and implemented to deal with the issue of unwanted children, the ZOSO and SOPE will be merely palliative measures that will end up being nothing more than Band-Aids used to cover putrid sores that will never heal.

Lloyd B Smith is a veteran journalist and newspaper publisher who resides in Montego Bay where he is popularly known as “The Governor”. Send comments to the Observer or lbsmith4@gmail.com.

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