Married couples do it better - Help children by giving incentives for Jamaicans to wed, say experts
The government is facing fresh calls for incentives to be provided to encourage Jamaicans to get married, based on benefits to be derived by children born in wedlock.
"There is no doubt that marriages in which two people are really committed to each other give a greater sense of security and stability to the family, and certainly to the children, than a common-law (union) would," said Dr Barry Davidson, a family therapist and chief executive officer of Family Life Ministries.
"I think we really need to find a way to encourage healthy marriages and to have some incentive," added Davidson.
A report released earlier this year by the World Family Map found that children born in common-law unions, and especially children living in single-parent families, experience higher levels of instability in the first 12 years of their lives.
Using data from 100 countries around the globe, the researchers said family instability is higher in countries where more children are born to single mothers and common-law parents.
In the wake of the report, regional technical director of the Southern Regional Health Authority, Dr Michael Coombs, noted that almost nine out of every 10 Jamaican children are born out of wedlock.
Coombs, who is also the founder and chairman of the National Association for the Family, stated that for the traditional marriage and the nuclear family to be re-established legislative and policy frameworks are needed to provide incentives for Jamaicans to get married, especially men.
That was echoed by European Union human rights attorney and legal adviser o the European Parliament, Roger Kiska, who has argued that it is fundamental for the Jamaican government to promote a healthy marriage culture if it plans to improve the country's economic tide.
Speaking at a public lecture at the University of the West Indies, Mona campus, he said the cure to the economy is to promote marriage as a better form of life than cohabitation.
"Social science has shown that children who grow with their parents in a low-conflict relationship graduate school at higher rates stay employed at higher rates, begin sexual activities at later ages and they generally just lead more responsible, law-abiding lives," Kiska told The Gleaner.
Psychologist Dr Leahcim Semaj has scoffed at any attempt to put laws in place to encourage marriages, but he agrees that incentives should be provided for Jamaicans to get wed.
"You can't legislate morality. You have to really tie it into socialisation with things that encourage it," Semaj told The Sunday Gleaner.
"There are other ways (to encourage marriages) with government policy, for example. In the US, for example, you have child-care credits, so you can claim on your taxes your dependent children. In the US, a married couple is taxed at a different rate than single persons.
"The best chance a child has is with two parents who love each other and are committed to each other and committed to the offspring that they produce," added Semaj.
But psychotherapist Dr Veronica Salter has argued that while marriage is the ideal, what is best is a home where the settings are ideal for the child.
"I think it is absolutely great if you can find a person that you are compatible with and want to share your life with, and everything else, but it doesn't happen like that," said Salter.
"All research indicates, both here and abroad, that children are far better off with one parent rather than two parents who are fighting or quarrelling, or where there is tension in the home.
"As a psychotherapist, I deal with many adults who are staying in their homes where there is friction and tension and what we call a toxic environment, which has far greater damage on those children than the parents separating."
For gender activist Judith Wedderburn, the most important thing in the home is the nature of the relationship between the two adults.
"When you simply shack up it does not automatically mean that it is an unhealthy environment for the child," said Wedderburn.
"It depends on the nature of the relationship the two adults decide to have and sustain, so that any child growing up in that space would benefit from that relationship.
"If in that environment there is abuse of the mother, whether physical or sexual, any kind of abuse, then that is going to automatically affect the children," added Wedderburn, who argued that while children will benefit from having their mothers and fathers in the home, marriage does not guarantee a healthier environment.
Jamaicans waiting longest to get married
According to the 2016 edition of International Number Ones, a study compiled by London-based journalist David McCandless on his visual blog Information Is Beautiful, out of 186 countries, Jamaica has the highest average marriage age for both men and women at 33.2 years.