Tue | Aug 22, 2017

Mark Wignall | A poor woman with 11 children is calamity

Published:Sunday | January 15, 2017 | 1:00 AM

If reports prove true, it is likely that the mother of the 15-year-old girl alleged to have had intimate relations with a pastor will soon be charged with, at the least, child neglect.

I am in many psychological places with this. One part of me is acknowledging that being poor with 11 children is itself a tribulation to be burdened with, day in, day out.

Why am I willing to believe that my late parents had eight of us because they were rabidly in love with each other but the poor mother had her 11 because of undisciplined sexual behaviour?

I'll never know the most politically correct answer to that. I can remember in the 1960s when my oldest sister was about 16 she was sent to the shop where a much older man laid his hand on her. Back home she told my mother (my father, a ship's electrician, was at sea) who rushed off to the shop, 'collared' the huge man who stood there trembling as my mother harshly admonished him.

Maybe the times have changed. Or maybe not by much. Many women, grown used to the fact that they will only get 'pass through' male company, live the generational pain of that acceptance. With child after every different babyfather, the new man stops off briefly only for a 'night cap'.

 

Sexual currency

 

In time, there is no financial support from any of the men and the women, with a growing brood of females, find themselves drawn into seeing their underaged daughters as sexual currency to be exchanged for grocery money. Many of these mothers were themselves reared in those brutish circumstances.

Trying to live in the skin of another human being and making an attempt at empathy, one is forced to examine that point at which poverty and ignorance move over to raw flesh-trading. Certainly those horrible realities are not mutually exclusive.

"The mother of a youth who wash my car told me a few weeks ago that her 15-year-old daughter 'growing'," said a male professional working in New Kingston. "She has told me that my wife need not know but she would like her daughter to get some good treatment, whatever that is."

At some stage, the state has to act even if it appears that the poor and powerless are being picked on. One woman I know pimped out her 13-year-old daughter to a construction site subcontractor. The end result is that the daughter's insides have been ravaged by numerous bouts with various STDs, and at 30 years old the daughter is now bedridden.

"If there is one thing I praise Edward Seaga for doing it was having the 807 garment factories in the free zone area in the 1980s," said a well-known journalist who asked that I not mention his name. "Those women, many semi-literate, were earning about a third of what their men were earning but were doing three times financially for the household than what the men could do. Teach the woman to fish and 'yuh end up wid a well-stocked fishpond'."

 

Valuing women

 

As this administration moves to celebrate its first year in office next month, it is as useful a time as any to remind PM Holness that his mentor, Eddie Seaga, JLP prime minister in the 1980s, was a strong believer in, and action man on giving women centre stage in national leadership positions.

Government can deliver specific policy on women, such as what the PNP's Michael Manley did in the political, intellectual, social and economic turbulence of the 1970s. But nothing speaks as loudly as women taking their places at the top of key national posts. Young girls pay attention and see new possibilities in themselves.

With crime-fighting being the number one priority in Jamaica, development projects for women at the very bottom of the economic ladder are not yet being seen as among the top items on Holness' to-do list.

 

Our men

 

There is, of course, a lot of emphasis on child care but no one really believes that that can be divorced from household/family development and overall economic growth. To better understand why many men will have to be cut out of consideration in the development pie and women instead made the priority, one needs to listen to the things men talk about at street-level and the actions women generate.

Many of our working-age men are mired in ignorance and wear it as a badge of honour. Many times, only snippets of knowledge and useful information seep through. The men are gathered outside the shop talking rubbish and I am there with them partaking in it. I do it to learn more but many times I want to run off.

Everyone, it seems, is cutting up ganja and mixing it with cheap tobacco. Then it is spliff after spliff as long as the day runs and until one runs off to go wash a car or fix a leaking pipe.

Inside the shop the owner is busy, stacking out new stock. That person is a woman.

In the 1980s, my wife and I would often stop by her bar/club on the way to Paradise Cove, which was then enjoying exceptional social vogue.

The owner knew us and would sometimes come over to our table to converse. I suspected that she had her eyes on me, especially as she noticed that I could not keep my hands off my wife even in public, a natural draw to other women.

One day in the late 1980s I stopped by with a friend named Albert. "Where yu heading to now, Mark?" she enquired.

"Paradise Cove as usual. My place dat, man. Cool sea breeze, pretty swimming pool, good food."

"So yu want tek mi daughter wid yu?" She gave me her daughter's name. She was 15 or 16 but in any case she was a schoolgirl attending an uptown high school.

"Is just me and Albert gwine have a drink. Is what?" I asked her.

"Lawd, she just dey home every weekend and she bored. Tek har out."

And so she came with us. Albert and I were drinking rum, she was having Pepsi. We were conversing but she was not there. We did not know her language in order to say anything to her. "You ready for another Pepsi?" seemed appropriate.

Within 40 minutes we were back at her mother's place. She didn't appear too pleased. She rushed across. "Is what happen, Mark? Is whey she do yu?"

I pulled her aside. "Talk to me and tell me what's going on. You see me come here with my wife. You know where I stand. I am not into di running around anymore. Chat to mi."

She held down her head then slowly as she faced me she said, "Mi si yu and know yu is a decent man. All dem boy yah outa Bull Bay, dem wutliss boy dem jus a sniff after mi daughter. Mi daughter want likkle decency in har life."

I held on to her hands and explained that I understood her basic instincts but her immediate intentions were destructive. I left that day, told my wife about it and avoided that stop for the next six months.

In 2013, it's the aunt and her daughter. Outside of a shop on Belvedere Road. I offer the aunt, who I do not know, a drink from the bar next door. She asks if her niece can have a drink too.

Eventually I ask, "So what subjects do you do in school?"

"Basketball, English and history," she answers before, "gimme yu phone number nuh."

The aunt asks for another drink, pulls my phone away and places her niece's number in it.

I pay the bill, enter the car and delete the number. I drive away. Been there before.

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