Building stable families, building stable nations
THE EDITOR, Sir:
Since his appointment, Education Minister Ruel Reid, like his two immediate predecessors to varying extent, has been talking a lot about the importance of the family to the education sector particularly, but to the country generally. There has been enough talk, so the attendant actions are now required.
There is no denying that family life in Jamaica has been in crisis for some time now, with the agents of socialisation miserably failing. With the family needing attention, the other institutions of socialisation, including the community, Church and school, must recapture their significance and influence in helping to reorder our society.
It does not help that allegedly over 85 percent of our children are being born out of wedlock, with the fathers absent from most of our homes and our children's lives. No society can progress meaningfully by such a reality.
Our nation's deadbeat fathers must not be allowed to continue to refrain from exercising their parental responsibilities in helping to properly guide and shape the lives of their children. We must send a strong message to the deadbeats that things will not continue as usual.
It is foolhardy, however, to incarcerate them for refusing to pay child support as ordered by the Family Court, especially since any such imprisonment is not likely long term and may blight their prospects for obtaining gainful employment. If they are to be incarcerated, let it be as a last resort and let them at least engage in some prison-work programme, so they earn to help pay child support and to cover their basic prison expenses.
Deadbeat fathers should be denied passports and driver's licences, unless needed for their means of employment, and their wages or bank accounts should be garnished. Certain assets, if it comes to it, should be seized or have liens attached. If they happen to participate in any of our work-abroad programmes, agreements should be struck with their employers to ensure money is deducted from their pay for child-support purposes.
We have child-support reciprocal agreements with some foreign jurisdictions to obtain child support from fathers residing in those overseas jurisdictions. Are the arrangements working? Have we been using them? Are our people sufficiently aware of such existence? Have we been seeking to enter into such agreements with other jurisdictions?
Importantly, however, we need a serious culture shift so that our people can understand the importance of building stable families, which does not come from our women mothering a child with every man who passes by or for our men to believe that his siring children with as many women as possible is any great feat to celebrate. Naturally, our women must likewise become more sexually responsible and more sensibly enter into such relationships.
Traditional marriages, and not the meretricious common-law relationships offensively sanctioned with traditional marriage benefits by our misguided legislators, should be highly encouraged to help fix family life in Jamaica.
While obtaining financial support for our children is important, there is nothing like the fathers playing their full parental role in raising their children. Thus, our tax laws and social-benefits programmes, like the Programme of the Advancement Through Health and Education, among other such initiatives, could be used to help achieve such an objective.
Given the necessity of the Government lending importance to fixing family life in Jamaica, perhaps Prime Minister Andrew Holness should consider giving Senator Reid a revamped 'ministry of education and the family'. The prime minister would then appoint a press secretary or assign the information portfolio to one of the ministers operating out of the Office of the Prime Minister, to the extent such an assignment would not interfere with said minister's other portfolio responsibilities.
KEVIN K.O. SANGSTER