More marriages, fewer divorces for a healthy society
With Jamaica's family structure in trouble, there have been discussions far and wide about reviving community parenting and getting children involved in church from an early age, among other suggestions.
But for founder and chair of the National Association for the Family, Dr Michael Coombs, the solution lies in more marriages and fewer divorces.
Coombs, who carried out extensive research on the matter, said that if there were more healthy, loving marital relationships, the society would be better off.
"If we are to go by what research has shown about the impact of healthy, loving marriages, it is clear that society would be better," he told Family and Religion.
Married couples do not always get it right and many unions have fallen on the rocks as one or both partners are sometimes unfaithful. Coombs said that although there will be occasions of cheating and other issues, "with education of husbands and wives concerning the importance of an intact marriage, especially for the welfare of children, then that will minimise the inclination towards cheating."
Coombs said that marriages provide health benefits as well.
"Married men and women are more likely to live longer, to be physically and mentally healthier, to be happier, to recover from illness faster, more successful, and generally take better care of themselves and avoid risky behaviour. The health benefits are so significant, in fact, that one sociologist described them as being as large as the benefit from giving up smoking," he pointed out.
According to Coombs, most of society's ills can be addressed through a healthy marital union.
"When you look at the morbidity and mortality that is attributable to fractured families resulting from things such as declining marriages and increasing divorce rate, they are the most significant sources of social and public health issues being faced by Jamaica and other Caribbean countries," he said.
Based on his research, Coombs said that there has been a significant drop in marriage rates and an increase in divorce rates.
"This has undoubtedly contributed to the reality in Caribbean societies, where many children are born outside of wedlock. In Jamaica, 85 per cent of children were born to unmarried mothers, according to statistics from the Registrar General's Department (RGD) in 2014," he said.
Threat to public health
Coombs, who is also the regional technical director of the Southern Regional Health Authority, said based on the established impact of marriage on the adults involved and on the health and wellness of children, these trends pose a serious threat to public health, social well-being and national development.
Responding to the scenario of unmarried couples living in harmonious relationships and the effect on the children, he said studies show that the most important factor for optimal early childhood development is stability in a loving family environment.
"Further research has shown that 50 per cent of cohabitation or common-law union parents separate by the time the children reach five years old. This is compared to a much lower percentage, like nine per cent, of intact married families. That is why parental marriage is considered the best practice where positive child outcomes are concerned," he said.
Coombs stressed that the nation needs to "turn the statistics around".
"As a nation, if we are going to save the next generation, we must reverse the trend of marriages and divorces, and, once more, become a nation of healthy marriages. The family, Government, the Church, civil society and, indeed, all of society must act with urgency to promote parental marriage, especially among youth aspiring to become parents as this is the foundation of healthy families and a pivotal strategy in achieving Vision 2030," he opined.
For Coombs, scientific research has validated God's words on the importance of family. The solution, for him, is a comprehensive promotional campaign especially among the youth.
"Reverse the trend by targeting young people with an aggressive campaign to promote marriage. The Government needs to consider having a ministry that deals with family matters. I am making a public call for this," he said, adding that although there are several entities dealing with segments of the family, none deals with it in its entirety.