Parenting the root problem
Our children's advocate has proposed that we institute parenting classes for young mothers. I think this is an excellent idea. Concern for our youth has dominated the news recently. This has been so primarily because we are seeing 14-year-old pregnant schoolgirls being murdered ostensibly by sex partners. There have been numerous calls for 'older men' to leave these children alone. This is not likely to gain much traction as the rest of the society understands the issue much better than those calling for this practice to stop.
What the rest of us know is that many of these children are sent to these men by their parents. One newspaper article spoke of pimping parents in St Thomas. I happen to know that this is rampant in other places.
It is fast becoming a national problem. In some cases, it is overt, with parents - usually mothers - seeking out the men. In other cases, the parent simply lays down the rules that each child is required to provide certain items daily or weekly. Where is a 14-year-old child in school supposed to find grocery for a family of six?
Many mothers are making a comfortable living from the money and goods their young children are bringing in on a regular basis. And no questions are asked unless there is a reduction in what is coming in. If they are questioned, they will use their 'sufferer voice' to explain that things are hard and they just ask that man to help with 'lunch money'.
Of course, once the 'lunch money' arrangement starts, it takes no time for the child to do the maths. It goes like this: If 1 man = 1 lunch money, and 2 men = 2 lunch monies, then 5 men = 5 lunch monies. It soon becomes clear that years of education are designed to do what can be started without all that educational effort. Soon school is just a place to go to meet older men on the road.
There are laws passed to protect our children, but the children of this country are suffering. Many are under severe stress. Yes, there are many missing children, but they are missing because they are fleeing. I can remember the 12-year-old girl whose mother would take her to the room of a man in his 40s every Saturday morning. She would wait outside for about 20 minutes for the child to come out with the man behind her. His hand would connect briefly with the mother's hand. Then she and her daughter would be on their way.
There was a 14-year-old who was a striking, well-developed beauty. As she told me a few years later, any man who liked her could 'talk' to her mother and - if she agreed - she would spend the night at her friend's place and allow the man to 'stay' with her daughter. Her last words to me before she migrated were that she could not understand how all her friends who did not have her physical or intellectual attributes were all in solid relationships and she could not 'hold' a man for more than two months.
Then there is the pastor who was teaching this child to drive a car. After 21/2 years, this child did not know how to find the brakes on a car. Her mother explains this by saying her head is 'tough'. These are not top-secret events that I alone know of. The entire communities in which they took place were aware of what was taking place, but most homes had their own stories and found nothing intrinsically wrong with what they were doing.
No one should believe that the boys escape their 'responsibilities'. They, too, are available to the men in our society. They are also schooled in the art of extortion, shoplifting, drug sales, among other 'hustlings'. They are sent on certain missions because, if caught, they are juveniles and would not go to jail.
The car in my carport was three days old when a troubled, unsupervised youth from another community found himself in my yard and caused about $40,000 damage to it. Some weeks later, my gardener saw his mother at a street dance and told her what her son had done. Without even breaking her dance routine, she shouted over her shoulder: "... Tell him (me) fi go tell police." Over the years, this boy damaged or stole so much property and caused so much disruption to people's lives, it would be difficult to calculate. But his parents never showed the least bit of concern. Today - as an adult - he is safely tucked away in a jail for some crime committed as an adult.
It seems to me that it is time for parents to be brought before the courts and charged for their children's illegal activities. If they are not doing what they are supposed to do as parents, they should be held civilly or criminally liable. Disciplined, well-developed societies do this. In Singapore, if a child misses school and no reason is given, both parents are hauled, unceremoniously, before the courts and punished. Could this be one of the reasons why there is not one Singaporean who is not well educated? Could this be one reason why that is a well-developed, industrialised society with limited crime?
In South Carolina, the mother of a 14-year-old boy was arrested for abuse when the boy's weight reached 555lb. Shouldn't the parents of that boy who damaged my car be held responsible? What about vicarious liability?
Will it work? It was instituted in Silverton, Oregon, in 1995. Parents began to face a charge of misdemeanour for "failing to supervise a minor" when a child, under 18, violates any provision of the Silverton Municipal Code. Although the ordinance had only been in effect a short time, Silverton Mayor Ken Hector reported that the community of 6,400 had experienced a 44.5 per cent reduction in juvenile crime and reduced levels of truancy. Further, school officials reported increases in the level of involvement of parents with their children.
According to P. Thomas Mason, "The objective of these laws is to impose affirmative duties on parents to provide necessities for the youth in their custody and to ensure that they do not abuse or abandon their children."
If we are to be brutally honest, we must admit that ours is not a disciplined society. The overwhelming majority of children are the result of casual, unplanned liaisons. They are unwanted. They are an inconvenience. Attempts are made by parents at the earliest convenience to divest themselves of them or at least to use them for their own benefit.
Holding parents accountable for their children's actions is the first credible attempt in dealing with the crime problem. There should be consequences when parents abdicate their parental responsibilities. The difficulties our children are experiencing cannot be detected from behind desks in offices. Creative ways will have to be found to identify the unique and painful challenges facing our children.
NOTE: In a previous article, I failed to give credit to author Michael Carlie for a quote on gangs. It is regretted.