It’s a massive challenge, but defeating poverty is possible
Dr Norman Dunn, junior minister for labour and social security, has reminded Jamaicans that Section 34 of the Child Care and Protection Act criminalises child labour and that those under 18 years old should be attending school rather than earning a wage.
The State-run Jamaica Information Service, which interviewed Dr Dunn, tells us that breaches by employers could lead to fines of up to $500,000 and/or imprisonment for up to six months.
We find no fault with the law, which we believe is in sync with the requirements of the International Labour Organization. However, as Dr Dunn and other Jamaican Members of Parliament can readily testify, many young Jamaicans have been forced to abandon school long before age 18 just to be able to feed themselves and their relatives.
That’s just the harsh, undeniable, economic reality that goes way back. And, the COVID-19 pandemic — which forced the suspension of face-to-face classes for prolonged periods in 2020 and 2021 — provided added impetus away from formal education for far too many of our very young.
The booming construction sector across the country has provided haven for impoverished, unskilled young men — some still at high school age.
Sadly, an untold number of young men and girls are also drawn into criminal and antisocial behaviour, not least scamming and prostitution.
The inequalities in the education sector — forwhich elitist traditions are partly at fault — constitute an aspect to which we believe most Jamaicans are not paying enough attention.
However, it seems to us that at the root of the problem is poverty.
Notwithstanding the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH), many Jamaicans are forced to limit education for their children because there simply isn’t enough money to cover costs.
That overarching impoverishment hindering education and the society as a whole has been a headache dating back as far as anyone can remember.
Yet, there are segments of the Jamaican economy, such as tourism, showing the way in terms of the much heralded “prosperity”.
Hence the clarion call from Prime Minister Andrew Holness that the mass of the Jamaican people need to start feeling greater benefits from the multi-billion US dollar tourism sector.
“It can’t just be prosperity for some… but prosperity for all…” Mr Holness told his audience at the opening of the US$40-million resort development, Hideaway at Royalton Blue Waters, in Trelawny last week.
Quite correctly, Mr Holness points to “linkages” with the wider economy as the way to sustainably get all Jamaica benefiting from the powerhouse that is tourism.
According to the prime minister: “…not just through [direct] employment, but [also] the consumption of Jamaican-made goods and services by the people who come here…” is the way to fully realise the visitor industry as a public good.
So that “if we have three million visitors, that means our poultry-producing industry should be massive, because we should be producing [to feed visitors]… we should have all the tomatoes and lettuce and cabbage and potatoes produced right here”.
If, as a nation, Jamaica can so organise itself to maximise from tourism and other industries, that long elusive goal of defeating poverty and its numerous related ills will become achievable.