Betty Ann Blaine | Fix family life, fix crime
It is definitely not rocket science, and it is more doable than we might think. Jamaica does not have a crime problem. What we have is a family problem, and when we fix family life, we will simultaneously fix crime.
Among the myriad crime statistics available, one thing is crystal clear. Serious crimes are not being committed by young men from stable homes. In fact, it is the opposite that is the reality.
Children and young adults experiencing good home life, and, by extension, good values and morals are those we see struggling to complete tertiary education; joining unending queues for jobs and seeking legitimate opportunities to go abroad. With a few exceptions, they are not the criminals.
Experts all over the world agree that children raised in harmonious two-parent homes are most likely to become responsible and productive adults. They also concur that the same applies to children raised by single parents with strong familial and social support systems. The children who are most at risk of gravitating towards, and engaging in, criminal behaviour are usually those from broken and unhappy homes.
At the root of Jamaica's family life and crime crisis is the issue of fatherlessness. It is not only that most of the nation's children are being raised by women - mothers and grandmothers - it is that a large percentage of those children have never laid eyes on their biological fathers.
Experts also agree that children, particularly boys living without their fathers and without positive male role models in their lives, face the highest risk of being recruited into gangs and into a life of crime.
While the risk of juvenile delinquency cuts across all social classes in Jamaica, those children who are born and raised in harsh and volatile inner-city and rural communities are most vulnerable. My experience has shown me that children who experience substandard living conditions, with the accompanying day-to-day stresses leading to abuse and neglect, are fodder for crime recruiters.
Violence doesn't fall from the sky. It is a developmental process that starts in early childhood, and, if unchecked, will morph into a monster that becomes chronic and untreatable. That is precisely what we are seeing in our country right now.
Then there is the issue of the multiplier effect of the potential for criminality. Every year, approximately 45,000 children exit our secondary schools, most of them with nowhere to go after that. A small percentage of school leavers go on to employment, tertiary education, and government programmes, i.e., HEART Trust and CAP (Career Advancement Programme). A smaller number are able to get visas to go to 'foreign'.
The options open to the majority are hustling, gambling of all types, plenty sex, 'getting a baby', and various forms of criminality.
When I asked one inner-city young man what his plan was for the future, he looked at me a little puzzled and simply replied, "Ms Blaine, wi no tink bout the future because wi nuh know if wi a go live fi si tomorrow." It is that lack of plan and purpose and deep hopelessness that are the greatest push factors for recruitment into the world of crime.
HOW DO WE FIT IT?
So it seems that the question the nation should be asking is, "How do we fix family life?" The following are some ideas that at the very least should prompt a national conversation:
Tear down the zinc fences and engage Habitat for Humanity to build decent homes for our citizens. When we bring dignity to the lives of our people, we will get a different result.
Partner with churches in their respective communities to undertake comprehensive social surveys/audits of every household, with special emphasis on the status of children and young adults.
With the full participation of the private sector, provide employment opportunities and special programmes and services to match survey results, with special emphasis on vocational and entrepreneurial training with subsidies for trainees.
Promotion of marital unions, precipitated by the requisite levels of counselling in partnership with churches.
Provision of after-school and recreational programmes for children using existing facilities.
Link parenting education to PATH.
And there are models available to Government. In the 1980s and 1990s, the Voluntary Organization for the Upliftment of Children (VOUCH) provided the country with the template for successfully educating parents. VOUCH, which was the pioneer of parenting education in Jamaica, introduced the radio show Your Child and You and took specialised training to parents in factories and in the general workplaces. It worked.
A few years ago, Hear The Children's Cry undertook an extremely successful pilot project named Prevent-A-Dropout Programme, in which five powerful interventions were brought to bear on the lives of grade nine students in the formal school system, including a family support initiative. Of the 30 greatly at-risk students who were not expected to graduate, all but one child failed to complete the programme. Twenty-nine of them walked the isle on graduation day. The model was shared with the Ministry of Education at the time, and is still available for implementation and replication.
Older Jamaicans would remember the 'Two is Better Than Too Many Campaign'. It cut the birth rate by one-half. It is clear that a relevant and sustained public-education campaign is now paramount.
There is, in fact, a way to fix Jamaica's crime problem. Fix family life!