‘Young gyal business control Jamaica’
The county has finally been gripped with a sense of crisis over child sexual abuse and man-child relationships, which has for too long been a common feature of Jamaican life. Covered up, taken for granted, and ignored. Until our children started turning up dead and pregnant, and killed along with their adult, live-in lovers.
It's Child Month, but what has been taking place in our children's lives is no child's play. When politicians are finally forced to pay attention to something, you know it's bad. Our prime minister has urged us to ensure we send our children to church, and opposition spokesperson on education, Senator Kamina Johnson Smith, suggests a zero-tolerance approach to adult-child relationships and recommends a national campaign in media and in the communities themselves.
And young journalists, like that enquiring mind, George Davis, was 'chawing fire' in his thought-provoking Gleaner column last Wednesday, 'Shaken up by shacking-up'. The Nationwide star asks: "In this age of rights for everyone, how does one even begin to tell an adult man that he does not have the right to have sex or cohabit with a girl under the age of 16? ... . How do we impress on him that only a man without morals, with no sense or appreciation of values - a real dutty man - would seek to have a sexual relationship with a child?"
But, George, what is the value of morals and all that highfalutin stuff? Who the hell cares about morals in this society, George? Why are you smuggling in outdated ideas influenced by religion?
We are a society that values money over morals. Our values are monetary. If we can't count it, it has no value.
When a society loses its moral compass or scoffs at any such concept, the consequences are dire. George Davis puts his fingers on the horns of that dilemma: "But as a I grieve for the children caught in the web of those sexual predators masquerading as men, I remind myself that the new world mantra dictates that everyone is entitled to their rights." I have expressed it as the Sovereignty of Desire. If you have an intrinsic desire, you have an inalienable right to satisfy it as long as it doesn't hurt anyone.
And believe me there are 'dutty men' out there who try to justify the view that living with a 15-year-old is not necessarily abusive. They would first argue that the law arbitrarily sets the age of consent at 16. Some persons are clamouring for it to be changed to 18. If Government accedes to that, by virtue of that change, what is illegal and supposedly immoral today would be okay tomorrow.
'Dutty men' would go on to say that if a girl is being given school fees, lunch money and pocket money, and if 'dutty man' lets off on her family so they can 'live some life', he is doing a good. Better than she sleep with some wutliss boy who means her no good, gets her pregnant, and disappears.
We have a culture that is very tolerant of adult-child sexual relations, and this is deeply entrenched. Chaka Demus captured this rhythmically and catchingly years ago with his hit song, Young Gyal Business Control Jamaica. Put up you hand if 'you young and fresh and you know you a the best ... young gyal business control Jamaica'. Young gyal business control Jamaica, for the Sharons nuh waan no bruk pocket man, she want 'a man who can buy her house and land'.
In a crudely materialistic and nihilistic culture, money buys everything, including relationships with children. Mothers not only turn a blind eye, but sell their children into slavery with men who can 'let off' and men who will 'take care of' their daughters. Unless we successfully build a counterculture of shaming for these attitudes, they will continue.
I am encouraged, however, that there is a groundswell against these man-child relationships, which have been quite common for many decades. I have studied how moral revolutions happen. They start slowly, then a momentum is built after a period of outrage. We must not let this outrage dissipate. We must seize the moment.
Ads like the one with Queen Ifrica must proliferate. The big companies must come on board. Government must put money behind this campaign as part of a whole values and attitudes campaign. Governments have only been talking about the importance of such a campaign, but not putting their money where their rhetoric is. But if this Government believes that only passing International Monetary Fund targets is important and not see that those very targets are threatened, with no growth possible, with a crumbling social infrastructure, then ... .
culture of restraint
We don't have a culture of restraint, a culture that glorifies self-control and self-mastery. We love to bruk out and gwaan bad. We live to indulge our senses. Postponement of gratification or deferral of gratification is foreign to our culture. This is directly related to our economic underdevelopment, for societies which are rich are those that have inculcated certain values.
Make no mistake: We can't just moralise on this matter of adult-child sexual relationships and preach sanctimoniously without connecting it to economics. Let's not be silly or bury our heads in the sand. We don't have to be economic reductionists to see that when so many live in crowded households, with fathers and stepfathers having to share room space with growing daughters and stepdaughters, we are manufacturing disaster. So many children witness sexual activities at home from an early age.
Many parents don't have jobs or are underemployed and, consequently, they can't find the lunch money and bus fares for their little girls. They can't offer them ice cream or KFC or Burger King meals. Some dirty old men can - and will. And their offers will be welcome. Poor people are not genetically more immoral than uptown people. Their economic circumstances predispose them to certain moral evils. That's just a fact. If we don't fix the economy and create an equitable, just society, where the fruits of economic growth are enjoyed by the broad masses, you could send your children to every church in Jamaica, have national campaigns every day in every community, strengthen the police and legislation to deal with sexual abuse, the problem will not go away. You have to deal with economic growth and social equity (not just the former I stress).
poor teens with values
Despite poverty and economic marginalisation, however, people don't have to pimp their children. Young girls don't have to give sexual favours to get lunch money and bus fares.
There are poor teenagers with values who go to school without lunch money and who scrounge for the little bus fare to reach school, or ask teacher or parson for some bus fare. They will do without Burger King or KFC, and they don't have to bling out at dancehall parties with Brazilian hair. They don't depend on that for their self-esteem.
If you don't inculcate that culture; if you have to wait until you have a high-growth, just society before girls refuse dirty money, we are in serious problems. Parents have to take seriously the job of moral formation. Parents themselves have to be grounded if they are to inculcate values in their children. They can't give what they don't have. Let us use this Child Month to recommit to our children. To build a strong moral fibre in them. To teach them that there are some things worth sacrificing for. That they don't have to listen to our decadent dancehall artistes and our decrepit bourgeois advertisers who define what is the good life.