Wed | Nov 21, 2018

Michael Coombs | Fatherlessness raises crime risk

Published:Sunday | June 24, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Michael Coombs
Anthropologist Herbert Gayle.

A recent newspaper report titled 'Don't blame dads' quoted statements from anthropologist Herbert Gayle that dismissed the suggestion that the absence of fathers pushes boys into crime.

From this report, Dr Gayle based his position on local and global trends in father presence, citing a 2016 study in Jamaica indicating an "impressive" 42 per cent of households having an active, present father. These trends, he argued, when juxtaposed against trends in murders in the case of Jamaica, suggested that father absence is not a risk factor increasing the likelihood of males becoming involved in crime. The words 'active' and 'present' were not defined in the report.

The following are just some of the implications should this spurious view be accepted:

- The fact that from robust research there is a significant majority of fatherless males in crime-related cohorts in Jamaica and many developed Western states would have to be dismissed as a mere coincidence.

- Compelling evidence put forward and analysed by renowned family sociologist David Popenoe in several publications indicating that fatherlessness is a significant factor contributing to drug abuse, crime, violence, and juvenile delinquency will also have to be dismissed.

- The validity of the following quote from internationally recognised psychologist Edward Kruk commenting on the evidence-based role of the father factor in crime and other social issues would have to be seriously questioned:"Given the fact that these and other social problems correlate more strongly with fatherlessness than with any other factor, surpassing race, social class, and poverty, father absence may well be the most critical social issue of our time."

So, too, would we have to question or dismiss robust research and surveys done by numerous researchers across the globe, government departments such as the United States Department of Justice, and our own Jamaica Constabulary Force, and the review of almost 50 of these studies from developed and developing countries by researchers Sara McLanahan, Laura Tach, and Daniel Schneider (2014), indicating that fatherlessness is not just associated, or correlates, with crime and other social issues, but causes them.


Erroneous View


Editor, if we are to accept Dr Gayle's conclusion, we would have to accept the erroneous view that it makes absolutely no difference where the predisposition to criminality among males is concerned, for them to have their biological fathers actively fathering them, that is to provide, protect, nurture, and model love, respect for authority and the law, to set boundaries, to teach and model integrity, leadership, the value of hard, honest labour, and, importantly, to teach and model how men ought to respect and love women without violence or abuse.

Finally, sir, considering the fact that the majority of crimes, in particular homicides, in Jamaica are gang-related, we would even have to dismiss the following testimony of an ex-gangster, formerly of the infamous Fatherless Crew gang, and, of special note, Dr Gayle's comments on the views expressed by this male in a 2012 newspaper report.

"... The absence of a father, he reasoned, was probably the main factor in the decision taken by him and his young friends to get involved with the Fatherless Crew, whose original members have either been arrested or killed by the police or other gangsters.

"We didn't have any father figure around us, and the don of that particular community saw that and used it to his advantage. He fed us, clothed us, we got money, jewellery, and any female that we chose," he said.

The article goes on to state that the former gangster's hypothesis was supported by UWI anthropologist Dr Herbert Gayle, who stated that more than half of gang members have no father figure in their lives and a bad relationship with their mothers.

It is indeed unfortunate that there continue to be sceptics regarding the role of the father factor in placing males at risk where criminal activity is concerned.


Addressing the Deficits


This not about blaming dads; it is about recognising the critical need for us as a nation at every level to address the deficits of this critical national development issue of fathering through supporting, education, and empowerment of our fathers, especially of our future fathers before they make that society-changing decision to become a dad.

There are those who have recognised this and are acting to break the intergenerational cycle of fatherlessness. They should be encouraged and supported in every way.

From compelling evidence, the scourge of crime and violence will continue if this root cause is not adequately addressed.

- Dr Michael Coombs is founder and chair of the National Association for the Family. Email feedback to and