Ronald Thwaites | Family foundations matter for development
Have you noticed that among all the tributes about the late Dominic James, there has been no reference to his prowess as a student or even as a footballer? It is his leadership qualities and his good-matured character which have caught the attention of all who eulogised him.
And where would he have learned these attributes? Well, reference has been made to his mother and father who, even in their moment of unspeakable grief, have reportedly shown strength and graciousness and deserve admiration for having raised such a fine son.
The truth is that family foundations matter for everyone's development. But it is also true that many of us in Jamaica do not want to acknowledge that weak family structure is a huge impediment to national development.
Let's face it: unless we establish behaviour patterns whereby every child has at least one and much better, two natural parents or surrogates, who really check for them, we are unlikely to become the nation of self-confident, accomplished citizens which Vision 2030 envisages.
At the risk of sounding like Mrs Bourne and Lady Huggins, hard, cold, social and economic reality militate against our situation where the majority of our families are single-parented and where there is no strong commitment by parents to jointly bring up the children, products of their sexual connection.
And yes, there are any number of plausible reasons to be advanced to justify or excuse our family patterns. Traditional African traditions were systematically destroyed by chattel slavery, land consolidation and migration have decimated a stable peasantry, the influence of Church teaching on personal life has waned and a feckless hedonism has made restraint and faithfulness seem like abuses of personal freedom.
Then there are those hundreds of unemployed, many of whom aspire after a settled relationship, a safe place and the wherewithal to enjoy family life, but whose circumstances make this impossible.
As representative of a constituency, I can't count the number of mothers, fathers absent, who have to make the wrenching decision to endure deprivation here or to take a chance to go abroad, even if they can't return, in the hope that, even without parents, the remittance dollars and the barrels will suffice for the children. It seldom does.
In short, the current and forseeable state of our political economy conspires against effective family values.
MOST DEBILITATING CRAMP
Why is it that those who champion women's rights do not emphasise that the most debilitating and unfair cramp on a woman's life is to be abandoned or less-cared by the father(s) of her children? God bless all our single mothers and fathers, but their heroism should not justify their predicament.
After all, a woman can bear a child only once a year. A village ram, encouraged by a 'gallis' culture, is not so constrained.
Equally, I have little patience with those church folk and others who scream against homosexuals while ignoring the far more serious dysfunction of neglectful parenting.
So what will make the difference?
First, we can establish and promote the principle that, however hot the romance, it is irresponsible to make a baby who you have no commitment to try to raise with your partner. Is there any nicer way to put it?
Next, we can incentivise and 'big-up' those couples who espouse faithful parenting.
And in our schools, from the earliest stages, we can rivet in our childrens' minds the value, the joy and the utility of man-and-woman relationships committed to the care and upbringing of offspring.
You will notice that I have not argued the point that family foundations matter from any religious standpoint. Strong Jamaican families are the foundation upon which every happiness index and growth policy must rest.
It is that simple and that crucial.
- Ronald Thwaites is opposition spokesman on education and member of parliament for Central Kingston. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org