The economics of parenting
I love all of this focus - this intense focus - on our children in crisis. The national outrage over the abuse and exploitation of our children has forced the Government to push for tougher legislation and has concentrated the minds of our citizens on the importance of good parenting.
The prime minister was very passionate and affective in her address to the nation last Sunday night, giving us liberal quotations from the Bible. "I am concerned about instances of parental neglect," the prime minister shared. "Children are neglected, and are exposed to violence, sexual abuse and murder. What have we become when we as a society hurt and kill our children?"
The prime minister went on: "For me, children are the precious jewels of the nation; a valuable resource that must be cherished and protected. Children must be loved, cared for and nurtured." But it will take some more cash to properly care for our children. Cash is not enough certainly. And poor parents can love and nurture their children. But we fool ourselves if we simply moralise and sentimentalise this issue of child neglect and abuse. I am afraid we are missing some larger connections.
It is interesting that the theme of this Labour Day is 'Labour of Love: Nurturing our Children'. But if we don't treat labour right, if we continue to undercompensate our workers, we are jeopardising our children's future and we are compromising their nurture. People need living wages to properly care for their children. Workers who are underpaid are overstressed in dealing with day-to-day necessities and, therefore, generally have less emotional energy for their children.
Parents who have to expend so much creative energy to try to make ends meet and to juggle many balls in the air are apt to be irritable, impatient and impetuous with their children. Neo-liberalism does not put a premium on decent wages. Its premium is on debt reduction, fiscal consolidation and monetarism. Now I understand that we need to control the debt and be fiscally responsible in order to advance workers' welfare. Inflation is a great thief of workers' wages, and it does not make sense to give workers high wages in an economy that is not growing because of horrendous debt and fiscal imprudence. That's basic. An economy out of macroeconomic balance is one antithetical to the interests of workers - as well as parents and children.
But this society, if it is really serious about dealing with the issue of child abuse and violence against children, has to take seriously the issue of inequality and poverty. Moralising and quoting Bible is all well and good. But it is not enough. There are some hard realities we have to face. When poor people are forced to live in overcrowded, cramped conditions where 13-year-olds have to be bathing outside, going to outside toilets late at night or forced to sleep in the same room with Uncle This and Uncle That, that is not conducive to healthy child development. That offers no protection against predators, including those right in the home.
You can quote as much scripture as you want, the society must become equally fed up with these socio-economic conditions under which too many are forced to live. Mothers should never - no matter how extenuating the circumstances - pimp their children or turn a blind eye to their sexual exploitation just because money is being let off. But we must make it easier for them by providing jobs where they can earn a livable wage. We must ensure an economy where fathers have decent jobs.
Preaching to them about being moral and exemplary parents while fostering a system of economic oppression and injustice, is the crudest form of hypocrisy. As a society, we just become more sensitive to issues of social justice. We must not separate our moral outrage from our quest to end inequality. Yes, legislation must provide a disincentive for mothers to have their 13-year-olds roaming the streets at night, but if we can help those poor mothers by providing them with jobs where they can leave at a decent time or where they can afford to pay a little something to someone to give an eye on the children, that would be nice.
If those of us uptown would have a little consideration for our helpers to ensure they leave work at a decent time to get home to be good parents, that would be nice. I am for tough legislation to deal with inadequate parenting. But legislation should be accompanied by socio-economic reforms. I don't think Jamaican society takes seriously this issue of economic and social justice. We are not alarmed at the inequalities in our midst. There is a big and loud discussion globally about inequality, even among conservatives, but in Jamaica we have become so weary of the 1970s that no one dare mention the issue lest he be accused of the heresy of socialism. Christine Lagarde is talking about inequality, but our commentators are only talking about economic reform, competitiveness, fiscal
We can get all of that right and inequality would be left untouched. Labour Day means nothing to us as a society, except a day to go to the beach, have fun, have another day off to lyme, and for a few to engage in some clean-up activities.
We should use Labour Day to reflect on our labour struggles and where labour is today. Labour has been marginalised. Who speaks for labour and how potent is that voice? Private-sector voices are vocal, vociferous and well-known. Our trade union movement has capitulated to the forces of neo-liberalism. There is no intellectual challenge to neo-liberalism. It is taken as common sense, brute fact. Meanwhile, our young girls continue to be vulnerable to grown men who can pay their school fees, buy their school uniforms and provide lunch money.
They don't have to live with them. They can escape the consequences of any new law coming to deal with that. They don't have to have them on the street late at night to have their way with them. The girls leave school early enough and can skip classes now and then to give sexual favours. For their parents 'don't have it' and they have to live. Poor people are not genetically programmed to be immoral. Economics matters.
Has any 14-year-old from uptown turned up dead and pregnant? Are the children uptown being murdered? Are they running off to live with their boyfriends at 15 and 16? So why does it seem that middle-class people are such better parents and moralists than inner-city people? You think it might have something to do with money, jobs and class? You think it's because they have more Bibles uptown?
We have to be concerned not just about economic growth, but about social justice.
GIVE THEM FIGHTING CHANCE
Our business and professional classes prefer to moralise and pontificate rather than challenge our class-driven society. I have just finished reading famed Harvard professor of public policy, Robert Putnam's, book Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis (2015) where he talks about what is happening to poor children - black and white - in America and why America needs to take inequality and poverty seriously to address its own children crisis.
Send our children to Sabbath and Sunday school, yes. But provide them with first-rate day schools so they can have a fighting chance in life. Urge their mothers and fathers to do a good job of parenting, but provide an economy that can give them good jobs to facilitate better parenting. Clothe our young girls with our affection and love, but provide an economy that can put clothes on their backs, too, and not make them so susceptible to dutty old men ready to take off what little clothes they do have.
Pray for them, but for God's sake, don't make them prey to lust-filled adult men with deep pockets.