Orville Taylor | Child delinquency: it begins at home
If you have anything resembling a normal human conscience, you must be cringing deep inside your stomach that within two weeks, two nine-year-old girls have met terrible fates. One has died and the other could be dying for the rest of her life. Both matters are still under investigation.
However, preliminary information suggests that the perpetrators in each case are themselves children, although older. There is no need to panic, because there is no sudden onset of attacks on children, and please don't be plying my delicate ears with fabled non-existent scripture about last-days prophesies being fulfilled.
Doubtless, any attack, especially the homicide of a child, is a major tragedy. However, inasmuch as this is an irrefutable statistic and hard to hide, we must not jump into the hysteria and scream that assaults against children are increasing. Indeed, while we have seen an uptick in the number of reports, this could very well be a major silver lining.
Among the social legislation that fills me with pride is the Child Care and Protection Act (CCPA) of 2004, a statute that was deeply influenced by a wide cross section of interests, but importantly by some of my social-work colleagues, some of whom even presented in the Houses of Parliament when it was being debated.
INFORMERS SPEAK UP
Under this act, silence almost means consent, but more complicity, because there is an obligation on the part of anyone who has reason to believe that a child is being abused or is in need of care. Such adults are bound by the law to be informers and can be charged for keeping their mouths shut. Silence is not golden, even if you are a government minister with a free-roaming cell phone. The bar regarding reporting is so low that there does not even have to be actual abuse. All that is necessary is that a person has reason to suspect that the child is being or has been harmed. Nonetheless, the person who sits on the suspicion and does nothing is still liable for prosecution. Therefore, the rise in child-abuse cases could simply be that the community is becoming more responsible and is thus removing the blankets of silence.
Even the homicide cases do not indicate an alarming increase. Still, even one single child being harmed is one too many.
There is what I call convenient adult-onset amnesia. All of a sudden, we wake up as adults and act as if we were not children. I don't know about you, but I remember discovering the important differences between the male and female anatomy from I was in basic school. Of course, being a precocious child who went to school literate, I thought that one girl was such an idiot for referring to her father's organ as a 'long-sleeved' vagina. Not to mention when, in primary school, it gave me great pleasure to mention that my close friends, Gary and Raymond, were a pair of nuts as we told Mr Noble with a straight face that we were good buddies.
Children are far more aware of their sexuality than we are willing to give them credit for. Children are no dolly house, and they need constant and effective parenting. It is not funny when your little toddler humps your leg. Neither is it amusing when young Jeremy raises the skirts of his cousin and makes overtures that only older people should understand.
Children, even before puberty, have sexual desires, anger fits, and the mental attitude to rape and kill, even when they are as young as five years old. There are myriad cases of children plotting to accomplish the killing of their 10-year-old classmates. What children lack are judgement and discretion. The development of these is the last thing that the human brain does, and this occurs in the late teens and even later.
Most children are okay and need only moderate supervision. However, when it comes to their exposure to danger, it must not ever be overlooked that they are also liable to be harmed by their cohorts or even themselves. After all, would you leave your tweenager alone at home or with her other pre-GSAT classmate while you go about your business for a few hours?
It is a small minority of children who commit crimes or other major acts of deviance. Nevertheless, in almost every single case, unless there is a physiological cause, there is a parental component. In the recently publicised JA Kids Cohort study, carried out by a number of UWI-based researchers, it was thankfully discovered that up to age four, more than 70 per cent of fathers were in relationships with mothers and financial and other support came with it.
It was also validated that most fathers are indeed proud to be dads and 98 per cent readily 'own up' the 'baemadda', while 91 per cent of them admit to being with their men.
QUALITY OF PARENTING
However, what we know from other research is not that there is any alarming trend in absentee fathering as is popularly believed. What might be missing is the quality of parenting from both, even when both are residential in the same household. Doubtless, being a derelict parent whose children have to be taken into state care is a worst-case scenario. True, being in the house helps in being a better parent, but it also provides myriad opportunities for abuse, sexual and otherwise. Believe it or not, abuse is learned behaviour and both absent and present parents programme their children to be abusers.
Simple as it might seem, it is not just about beating the children; it also involves giving them too much leeway and not nipping negative behaviours in the bud.
- Dr Orville Taylor is head of the Department of Sociology at the UWI, a radio talk-show host, and author of 'Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets'. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.