Suzanne Leslie-Bailey, GUEST COLUMNIST
The curtain came down on Youth Month at the end of November. Such an important commemorative month did not get the kind of riveting attention it deserved, as more salacious news took the spotlight.
I must confess that I, like many others, was riveted by the Jamaica Labour Party's (JLP) leadership elections. Political hustings and ousting stole the spotlight from the children who are being killed, housed in adult remand centres, and engaging in sexually explicit and other errant activities - and during the month that should have been dedicated to them, to boot! This brings forcibly to the fore society's penchant for majoring in minors - not our children in this instance.
I have come to the sad realisation that youth issues do not sufficiently get the adrenaline pumping and tongues wagging. The crisis facing our children does not jolt us sufficiently to get widespread and sustained public discourse going on how to save and protect them.
Governments do not appear to place sufficient priority on the youth portfolio. However, to relegate these issues to the periphery of governance and policy is to do so at our own peril. The children are our future; but given their current state, we must now ponder: "Is that future bright?"
The almost 24-year-old United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that a child has "the right to survival; to develop to the fullest; to protection from harmful influences, abuse and exploitation ... ".
Regrettably, these rights are being tampered with and trampled on. Who do we blame for this? All key stakeholders - Government, family, schools, churches, communities, media, you and me - must share in the blame. However, I apportion the bulk of the blame for the dire state of our children squarely at the 'feet' of the family, specifically the parents!
The time has come for people who cannot afford children to stop having them! We have tiptoed around the issue and mainly employed less-than-effective measures such as public education programmes and soapbox calls for responsible behaviour. I believe, to a large extent, these calls have fallen on deaf ears!
It is time for the Government to intervene in the decisions made by these persons, as their irresponsible actions have dire economic and social costs and consequences which are not confined within the walls of their homes, but extend into the wider society. It is also my view that most of our prisoners and criminals on the loose are from poor socio-economic backgrounds and victims of poor parenting!
This strong action required by the Government will involve infringing on the rights of some people, women in particular, to have children as they please. The China model may be worthy of consideration. Politicians may not see this as a very politically expedient move. However, politicians cannot keep massaging and assuaging the 'grass roots', who are the ones mainly guilty of this act. Strong political leadership involves guiding and informing the followership about what is good and right!
crisis of women
I recall having a discussion with a political friend about some activity that I planned to undertake. Part of his response to me was: "Suzie, no bother to tell the women that they must stop having too many children. If them cuss their babyfather, join in and help cuss him to."
On a previous occasion when I discussed with him the crisis of women having children they can ill-afford, my friend's response was: "I disagree with your position, as if that was the case, I would not be here today." This person is quite a successful man. However, this does not nullify the serious challenges that arise from persons recklessly bringing children into the world.
This is indeed a very sensitive issue, which will have human rights groups and many people up in arms.
But, how do we stop this dreaded cycle? We continue to talk, talk, talk. It is time to do the walk! Public-education campaigns encourage our women and men to use contraceptives, but many men have an aversion to the use of the condom, as 'it kills feelings' (whatever that means); and many women do not insist on its use!
Contraceptives used by women may be costly for some and require discipline and consistency of use, which some women from the poorer socio-economic backgrounds cannot be bothered with.
The Government must expand the social service and public health systems. Public health officials and social service workers need to visit the vulnerable communities regularly and administer an appropriate form of contraceptive to women who require it. They must also readily identify families in crisis and implement speedy social intervention programmes.
All these actions can be taken in tandem with continued public education on responsibility, proper parenting, healthy family life, conflict resolution and building self-esteem.
It is time this mountain be moved! It will take all hands placed against it, and after three - 1-2-3 - we start shoving!
Suzanne Leslie-Bailey is a former research coordinator to former Prime Minister Bruce Golding. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.