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The Next 50 Years - Empower the Youth

Published:Wednesday | December 19, 2012 | 12:00 AM
Henley Morgan
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Jamaica continues to celebrate 50 years of Independence. We have achieved a lot. However, there is much work left to be done if we are to progress as a country. We must begin to tackle Jamaica's chronic problems in a targeted and sustained way to make this country a better place to live, work and raise families. The Next 50 Years, a special Gleaner series, will spotlight some of the challenges we must fix in the coming years. We want to hear from you. Email us at editor@gleanerjm.com and join the debate.


Henley Morgan, Contributor

THE TERM 'high-risk youth' has become a constant in the lexicon of terms used to explain the aberration of crime, violence, and other social ills that have overtaken Jamaica. The term is purely academic, for as the reader will discern later, the idea of risk, or an impending threat, has been supplanted by an immediate crisis.

In analysing the progress, or lack thereof, of Jamaica's youth from a gender perspective over the past 50 years, one may go as far back as Edith Clarke's My Mother Who Fathered Me (1957), Errol Miller's Marginalisation of the Black Male (1986) and Men at Risk (1991), to the late Barry Chevannes' Learning to be a Man (2001), or to the publications of contemporary researchers and workers in the field like Herbert Gayle, Horace Levy, and a raft of contributors mainly from the University of the West Indies. Allowing for differences in treatment of the subject, all point to an incontrovertible fact: Jamaican youth, more specifically males, are in crisis.

The extent of the crisis is brought into sharp relief by Gleaner freelance writer Paul Williams. Writing in the Monday, December 24, 2007 edition, he uses language so simple a child could understand. I quote, in part: "Jamaican men have ceased to be the backbone of the society. They have scattered to every nook and cranny on this rock, playing second fiddle to all and sundry. It would seem as if they have lost their way, and are not merely marginalised, as some would say. Integral to the decline is the fact that too many Jamaican men no longer see the need to attain not even basic, much less tertiary education. Nonchalance has hurled them towards hustling and get-rich-quick scams and schemes. The recipe for survival, in many minds, is not to be found in books. They are
overrunning the prisons. Some of the free ones are toting guns of every
size, model, and brand. Their blood is washing the streets of this fair
land."

The concern is neither misplaced nor
exaggerated.

Let us examine the assertion that our
youth - primarily males in the 18-24 age grouping - are facing a crisis
with the help of data from the Statistical Institute of Jamaica. In
2010, the population in Jamaica, by gender, was males, 1,332,700 (49.3
per cent), and females, 1,373,100 (50.7 per cent) - almost even. Yet
females did better than males measured by almost every key
indicator:

Life expectancy at birth: males 68.57
years, females 75.3 years.

Literacy rates for persons
15 years old and over: total population 85.9 per cent; males 80.6 per
cent and females 90.8 per cent.

Student enrolment:
primary - males 51.1 per cent, females 48.9 per cent; secondary, males
49.9 per cent, females 50.1 per cent; tertiary, males 31.4 per cent,
females 68.6 per cent.

Victims of homicide: males 90
per cent, females 10 per cent.

Perpetrators of
homicide (persons arrested): males 98.0 per cent, females 2.0 per
cent.

Best predictor

But, in my
view, the statistic that is the best predictor that men will be in
crisis is the fact that near 85 per cent of children in this country are
born outside of committed unions, i.e. matrimony, which, although
increasingly transient, offers the best guarantee that boys will not be
raised solely by females.

There are a few areas in
which males are ahead of females. Starting at conception, the male is a
more prized progeny than the female and stands a reduced chance of being
aborted if the sex is known ahead of the act. One reason for this is
the belief that men are better risks for taking care of their parents in
their old age. The belief is not without basis. The unemployment rate
for men in 2009 and 2010 was 8.6 per cent and 9.2 per cent,
respectively, compared to rates of 14.8 per cent and 16.2 per cent for
females.

It is a known fact that despite the talk
about non-discrimination on the basis of sex and the fact that a woman
is prime minister, it is commonplace for men to be paid rates of 30 per
cent and more above women for the same work. A study of companies that
trade on the Jamaica Stock Exchange reveals that fewer than 10 per cent
of the persons who sit on boards of these companies are females. The
same is true regarding female under-representation in the governance
structure of institutions like the University of the West Indies, which
values intellect. The comparatively better performance of women has not
stopped tradition, machismo, and influential all-male organisations from
contriving to ensure Jamaica remains 'a man's
world'.

This brings back to the fore a vexing issue,
which has a related consequence. It is misleading to say that because of
their advancement scholastically and within the ranks of management,
females are no longer at risk. The greater concern, given the prevailing

talent deficiency, is the reality of important jobs going to men who are not
the most competent persons in the country to hold them. This must
somehow feed into Jamaica's low rate of productivity compared to its
trading partners.


The problem of male disempowerment
is not in the genes, but maybe in the jeans. Some people trace the
problem with male identity and manhood back to the slave trade
generally, and plantation life in particular, and the stud role played
by males who had characteristics that recommended them for improving the
breeding stock. We see evidence of it in how males are favoured and
encouraged in irresponsible behaviour in their socialisation starting at
a young age.

This does not, however, by itself make Jamaica
unique, not when compared to sister islands of the Caribbean or even
America, countries which share a common history of slavery and/or
patterns of subordination based on class or status. It certainly is not
sufficient to explain why antisocial behaviour and disempowerment, and
the related consequences among Jamaican males top that seen in almost
every other country on planet Earth. Searching for a Caribbean
perspective within which to distil and make sense of Jamaica's gender
dynamics over the last 40 to 50 years, although well intentioned, is
futile, beyond establishing that there is a similar trend in terms of
male disengagement from the norms of civil
society.

Jamaica's unique
situation

To locate what makes Jamaica a special case
in the fractious nature of its internal relations, we have to look to
developments more recent and self-imposed than the Middle Passage,
slavery, the plantation, and colonialism. What makes Jamaica unique is
tribal politics that produced garrisons, which produced dons, which
conditioned thousands of our youth read: males, for more than a
generation starting shortly after Independence and continuing to this
very day.

The Page A2 lead story titled 'Price of
breaking free' in the Monday, June 18, 2012 edition of The
Gleaner
told the chilling story of 21-year-old Jerome (name
changed). The ritualised nature of the conscription of the nine-year-old
into a life of crime and the difficulty he has in breaking free give
evidence of an evil, sinister, and deliberate system that has grown
beyond its narrow political objectives to infect large numbers of youth,
over time seeping into the culture and becoming the new
norm.

It is stories like Jerome's and my own
observations that led me to engage Ishmael Beah, the noted Sierra Leone
child soldier and author of the revealing book A Long Way Gone -
Memories of a Boy Soldier
(2007) during a visit to Jamaica.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 38 (2)
(1989), proclaimed: "State parties shall take all feasible measures to
ensure that persons who have not attained the age of 15 years do not
take a direct part in hostilities." The optional protocol (2002) on the
involvement of children in armed conflict raised the age of conscription
to 18 years.

I wanted to know, given the young age of
recruits, the long, sustained periods of gang warfare and the horrific
nature of the hostilities, could the emotional and psychological scars
experienced by children in tribal wars in countries like Sierra Leone be
also evident among Jamaican children engaged in a war for political
turf, spoils and scarce benefits? Beah's answer to me was an emphatic
yes, suggesting there may be a large cadre of youth and adult males
needing institutional rehabilitation.

This is where 50
years of Independence has brought us in our internal relations as it
concerns high-risk youth and the men they become. What of the next 50
years?

Serious crisis

The first step
- even as we celebrate the many achievements made by our youth - is to
recognise that we have a crisis.

Second, we must
accept that though there are some to blame for the wrong political and
social choices of the last 50 years that created the problem, we are all
responsible for getting us out of the mess.

Third,
Government must give the highest priority to resolving the problem
confronting youth and young adult males, elevating it to a strategic
medium-term priority within the Vision 2030 National Development Plan
relating to Goal No. 1: Jamaicans are empowered to achieve their fullest
potential, and Goal No. 3: The Jamaican society is secure, cohesive,
and just.

Fourth, in our approaches to addressing the
overwhelming security issues, officials at the policy and operational
level must move away from almost total reliance on punitive,
after-the-fact policing strategies, which put resources into the
wasteful activity of labelling and attempting to eliminate the
proverbial 'bad seed', and adopt instead a comprehensive set of
programmes to rehabilitate and normalise people and the institutions
(especially schools) that serve them, starting with toxic communities -
the so-called garrisons - where the problems are
concentrated.

Fifth, the strategy must involve those
living in the target communities to be part of the solution and to take
ownership of the change.

In his last public address to
an annual conference of the People's National Party, the late National
Hero Norman Washington Manley pronounced that he and his generation had
achieved their mission, which was to win self-government for Jamaica. He
looked into the future, and with these words set a new mission against
which our progress as an independent nation can be judged: "And what is
the mission for this generation? It is restructuring the social and
economic society and life of Jamaica."

Bringing
disadvantaged youth out of the slums, lifting them to respectability,
and providing them with opportunities to be productive citizens is a job
still to be accomplished. It must serve as the rallying cry for the
nation as we embark on the next 50 years of
Independence.

Henley Morgan, Phd, is a management
consultant. Send feedback to
editor@gleanerjm.com.