Sun | Jan 21, 2018

Peter Espeut | Culture of permissiveness

Published:Friday | January 20, 2017 | 12:00 AM

There are dozens of children pregnant under the age of 16 every year in Jamaica. The men involved are guilty of the crimes of statutory rape and carnal abuse, but how many are ever brought before the law? Very few. We have a culture of permissiveness when it comes to statutory rape.

As I drive along Jamaican roads every day, I see dozens of motorcyclists and pillion riders without helmets, in breach of the law. Some ride right past policemen. We have a culture of permissiveness when it comes to persons not using road-safety equipment.

Both of the above-mentioned crimes are easy to detect. Send any undergraduate social-science student to identify pregnant underage girls and the data will flow in from hospitals and community midwives, because it is mandatory for health practitioners to report child abuse. Asking the victims to name their abusers will produce a long list of suspects for law enforcement to interview.

Detecting helmetless motorcyclists is even easier. Just stand at any point on our road network and count them as they go by. They can't hide. They may be seen everywhere. Zero tolerance of bareheaded bikers and pillions would soon put a stop to this dangerous practice that costs our health services unnecessary millions each year.

Why do dozens of bikers go bareheaded? Because they know there is only a small chance of being ticketed by the police, who either are selectively blind, or practise a culture of 'bly' and 'let-off'.

And when it comes to statutory rape and carnal abuse, dozens - maybe hundreds - of underage Jamaican girls are abused each week by their fathers, uncles, neighbours and boyfriends because there is no fear of any consequences. Some may even be pimped by their mothers. Bring a few dozen rapists of underage girls before the courts - and unworthy mothers - and it might not stop carnal abuse, but it will send the right signal to all concerned.

However, we are a sexually permissive society, so I don't see this happening any time soon.




I supported the decision many years ago to raise the age of consent from 14 to 16 years old, although I felt that it should have been raised to 18. But it is not enough to pass a law decreeing that a young girl of 15 cannot legally give consent to sexual intercourse. The fact is that she can open her mouth and say the word 'yes'. What interventions are put in place in schools and in the media to assist young girls to say no when questions are put to them? And what interventions are put in place to counsel young boys to control their hormones?

By itself, offering contraceptives and abortifacients to young people sends the wrong signal.

At the same time, from every sound system and dance hall, and on every school bus, sexually explicit messages about 'young gal business' and describing body parts - and worse - assail the ears of underage youth. The Internet - available to all young people on their computers and smartphones - leaves absolutely nothing to the imagination, and stimulates their curiosity. Have we, in this culture of sexual permissiveness, prepared our young people - and, in fact, our older folk who never developed good habits of self-control - with the depth of conscience and strength of will to navigate safely these treacherous waters?

Sex sells! And through advertising, young boys and girls are fed messages about what it means to be a real man or an attractive woman, often blighting their personalities, and rendering them unfit for deep meaningful interpersonal relationships.

And then to further compound the problem, libertarians and libertines encourage the abandonment of moral and sexual self-restraint, in the name of a counterfeit 'freedom', which is really nothing more than giving in to one's lower base animal urges.

For at least 20 years now, it has been accepted that some consensus is needed on which values and attitudes should be encouraged across Jamaican society as a way of furthering national development. I fear that leaving this crucially important task in the hands of politicians will doom it to failure, as that class of persons is probably most in need of value adjustment.

At least, within the education system, it should be possible to agree on which values and attitudes should be encouraged in school guidance programmes.

And the Ministry of Youth and the Ministry of Culture should play a coordinating role to minimise the mixed messages sent to the young.

Whether in the realm of sexual matters or traffic behaviour, there has to be a national thrust to replace the culture of 'bly' and permissiveness with a culture of discipline and self-control.

- Peter Espeut is a sociologist and Roman Catholic deacon. Email feedback to