Editorial | Save our boys and save Jamaica
We have heard it repeatedly in the last decade: our boys are in trouble. Two recent news items have reinforced the continued existence of the volatile situation concerning the nation's male children.
First, University of the West Indies anthropologist Dr Herbert Gayle has given chilling details about the recruitment of schoolboys by gang leaders, and then there has been an urgent plea from former policeman Archibald Edwards for intervention in the lives of boys in the parish of Hanover.
Dr Gayle and Mr Edwards understand the dilemma the country faces from the spiralling crime and violence, and their voices should be taken as dire warnings of what is to come if there are no urgent steps to deal with the catastrophe.
The problem has been studied by many experts who have made their analyses and suggested intervention strategies. Somewhere in the inner reaches of Government, there exist volumes of detailed studies, recommendations, and, perhaps, effective programmes to deal with at-risk boys before they become targets of gangsters. So why has it taken so long to implement them?
For our part, we see the implementation of a comprehensive education campaign as an effective way of tackling a national crisis such as one that would reinforce the importance of staying in school and getting an education.
Mr Edwards spoke about the allure of money, which is influencing the boys. Surely, one of the messages that need reinforcement is that many of the nation's successful professionals and entrepreneurs were poor, but they climbed their way out of their circumstances by acquiring an education, by becoming literate and numerate, by being able to think logically.
Then there is the matter of professional help. Many of these children for whom the standard disciplinary prescriptions do not work need to be treated by professional specialists, and there is evidence that these experts are in short supply, particularly in the rural areas.
MURDER AND MAYHEM
A pertinent question many may ask is, what about the girls who are now targets of gunmen and criminals who seek to sexually abuse and otherwise harm them? We feel that if boys are educated and are convinced to navigate an honest path, women in this country will be safer.
Mr Edwards is to be congratulated for the initiative he started in his native St Elizabeth that aims to create a band of anti-crime ambassadors who are motivated to be role models both on and off school compounds.
He now wants to replicate that programme in troubled Hanover, which has seen mounting murder and mayhem in recent years. We believe such an initiative could be tried nationwide if it will lead to improving the self-esteem of our boys.
Dr Gayle made the point that many of the at-risk boys have no structure at home, and membership in a gang gives them status and a feeling of family and belonging. Of course, they also give them money in their pockets and food in their bellies.
This assessment calls for the microscope to be turned on the many dysfunctional and disorganised family units that exist in Jamaica. Efforts to steer Jamaican young men from a life of crime have to be coordinated, and involve parents, schools, the police, and the various social-services personnel who interact at the community level.