It is well established that children who grow up in a caring social setting are frequently better nourished, better educated, more law-abiding and productive and have better parents, thereby enhancing the peace, security, democracy and socio-economic development of any society.
This is not the reality in Jamaica, no matter how much we talk about loving our children. The bald truth is that too many children experience a horrible childhood, leading to absentee fathers, irresponsible mothers, criminality, violence including murder and general indiscipline and lawlessness.
“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men,” Frederick Douglass, the former American slave, reminded us.
Child Month 2021 still finds too many children living in material poverty of over-crowded housing, hunger and malnourishment. Twenty-five per cent do not get secondary education; 25 per cent do not pass Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) exams, a situation worsened by scarcity of desirable amenities such as tablets, regular Internet services, toys and books.
More than the deprivations of poverty is the treatment accorded to children. Many children experience what psychiatrist Dr Herbert Gayle has appositely described as “torture” — mental and especially physical beatings. An increasing number of children are being murdered.
We can no longer be in disbelief, thanks to the evidence-based research of Professor Aldrie Henry-Lee of The University of the West Indies, Mona in her recent book Endangered and Transformative Childhood in Caribbean Small Island Developing States.
The book reveals some disturbing information, for example, only 40 per cent of children are in a family with both parents. The absentee father creates the absentee mother who has to become the breadwinner working away from home and even when physically present are emotionally absent.
Corporal punishment, sexual abuse, child trafficking and child labour from age three, are widespread. Indeed, home is not a safe place. Parents are often unemployed, migrated or imprisoned and even when employed, 50 per cent have no academic qualification or formal training.
Food shortages were experienced in 44 per cent of homes and by nearly half (49 per cent) in lower socio-economic households, Professor Henry-Lee's timely and thought-provocating research found.
The poly-pandemic of poverty, inequality and COVID-19 has made life even more unpleasant by intensifying social isolation, the difficulties of schooling by Internet and lack of play with friends.
We thank Professor Henry-Lee and The UWI even more for the policy recommendations to improve the quality of life of our children. It is just a pity that so few people in Jamaica read anything other than sports, crime and sex.
Hopefully, for the sake of our children, policymakers will not allow this one to join the multitude of other seminal works now gathering dust on a shelf somewhere in the maze of Government agencies.