“The day will come when nations will be judged
not by their military or economic strength, nor by the
splendor of their capital cities and public buildings,
but by the wellbeing of their peoples; by their levels of
health, nutrition and education…and by the protection
that is afforded to the growing minds and bodies
of their children…”
– UNICEF ‘Progress of Nations’, 2000
I’m afraid we have been getting it wrong. Our country, for decades, has been striving to achieve the ‘fruits’ of development without attending to the ‘roots’ of development, and the calculation is not only persistently wrong, it is counterproductive.
In the same breath that we espouse and promote the values and virtues of Vision 2030, the country is bombarded with serious crime statistics that are staggering in scope and scale. With a population of approximately 2.8 million, Jamaica’s murder rate, according to Prime Minister Andrew Holness himself, is nearly eight times the global average. Already, it is reported that over 200 persons have been murdered within a mere 55 days of this new year.
The root of the problem is the crisis in family life; and try as we may to achieve sustained economic growth, we will never truly succeed unless and until we address this fundamental malady. The simple truth is that we cannot fix crime without fixing family life.
This malfunctioning root condition naturally spawns a variety of societal issues which the country continues to grapple with – the most recent being the emerging crisis in our schools.
Over the last few weeks, there have been numerous cases of school violence, not just involving students themselves, but principals, teachers, and even a dean of discipline.
Particularly disturbing is the fact that the incidents have occurred across different parishes and, in one of the last cases, involving students from one of our ‘traditional’, middle-class group of schools.
My corresponding adage is, “You cannot fix schools without fixing homes”. Children being raised in violent homes, violent communities, and in a violent nation, will undoubtedly exhibit violent behaviour. The fact that over 90 per cent of them attend school, means that we can expect to see the type of situations we are now experiencing erupting in and across our educational institutions.
Experts agree that “violence doesn’t fall out of the sky”. It is a developmental process that starts in early childhood. Many of our children are not just perpetrators of violence, but are themselves victims of horrendous levels of abuse – physical, sexual, verbal and emotional.
A child, particularly a male, living in a violent household will more than likely act and react to what he knows and is accustomed to – which is to use brute force at the start of any dispute or disagreement, and as far as these children are concerned, it doesn’t matter if the ‘offending’ person is the peer or the principal.
The lack of respect for adults is a growing familial issue. Children born to teenage mothers and fathers, and living in households where the grandmothers are almost as young as their own mothers, see blurred lines between themselves and those adults. Communication in those settings is oftentimes mutually contentious and mutually violent. Those unclear lines between children and adults in the homes are becoming increasingly evident in our schools, resulting in the attacks we’re seeing against school staff.
Schools are located within communities, and communities, in turn, reflect the quality of national life. Emanating from our communities is a growing culture of lawlessness that is becoming endemic, especially on our roadways and within the public transportation sector. Here, too, we see our children being negatively influenced and groomed.
LIVE WHAT THEY SEE
Sporadic campaigns to remove loud and lewd music from buses have once again failed, and children leaving home, hopeless and angry, are ceaselessly egged on by violent lyrics blasting in their ears en route to their schools.
On and off these buses and route taxis, our children are forced to live what they see. They are hostages of the near-state of anarchy ruling our streets, both urban and rural. The growing recklessness, lack of civility, and downright criminality on our roadways are not only bad for children, but anathema to stable and harmonious social and economic growth.
To expect significant and sustained development within an environment of chaos, confusion and criminality is, indeed, folly. If there is any hope of achieving sustained economic growth, a deliberate, carefully designed and implementable plan of action for the reconstruction of family life must be rigorously and simultaneously pursued.
The UNICEF Progress of Nations manifesto is apropos. The ‘fruits’ of development characterised by military strength, highways, and buildings, pale in comparison to the basic well-being and welfare of the nation’s people, and especially its youth.
Fortunately, our country still has a chance to choose. Attending to the deep-rooted problems that exist will not only produce good fruit, but will allow us to reap the type of harvest that will clear the path to Vision 2030 and beyond.
Betty Ann Blaine is a child advocate and Founder of Hear The Children’s Cry and Youth Opportunities Unlimited (YOU). Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.