Sun | Apr 22, 2018

Hypocrites riding on kids' backs

Published:Monday | June 30, 2014 | 12:00 AM

THE HYPOCRISY which has characterised the discussions about the treatment of children in state care is nauseating.

Like scorpions on the frog's back, holier-than-thou members of the society have seized the opportunity of the unauthorised and reprehensible introduction of sex education in some children's homes to proclaim love and care for these wards.

But truth be told, many of the crusaders do not love these children as much as they pretend they do.

In fact, they are the same ones who beg the police daily to do something about the boys at the stoplight or at the street corners. They are the same ones who refuse to take public transport because of the behaviour of some children, or rush out of the transport centres because they don't want to be around them.

If we think carefully, the children in state care fit the description of those at the stoplights, in the buses, at transport centres and street corners. They are the children many who are now preaching the 'love our children' doctrine would not have a meal with, or worse yet, invite to their homes.

But as was with the case of the Armadale fire, the current situation provides a platform for the nation to self-aggrandise. These children, who many of us are happy we don't have to associate with, easily become political and social ammunition. Suddenly, their human rights are of concern to us.

Ministers of government and employees of entities such as the Child Development Agency are required to be model parents, being called on to ensure that these children are properly fed, housed and educated. But one wonders, is it really that the society wants the best for these children? Could it be the case that we are happy we don't have to deal with them, and that institutionalising allows us breathing room since we don't have to encounter them as we go about our business?

Opposition Spokesperson on Youth Olivia Grange used her contribution to the Sectoral Debate in the Parliament to blast portfolio minister Lisa Hanna on the matter of the inappropriate sexual material introduced illegally to six children's homes.

Grange was perhaps correct when she said "sitting in air-conditioned offices and having hastily called press conferences without being aware of all the facts is no way to run such a sensitive ministry as one dealing with the affairs of children".

But she went further to make a thinly veiled call for Hanna's ministerial head.

Gomes' resignation

"The resignation of Dr Carolyn Gomes from the Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) board and Susan Evans, another board member, should send the message and serve as a lesson regarding the appropriate thing to do at this time," she said.

Now that is a purely populist call and Grange, who hopes to become youth minister, is setting herself up.

There were 4,621 children in state care in 59 residential care institutions for children in Jamaica, nine of these institutions were run by the Government at the end of last year. Children are placed in state care for various reasons, chief among them being that they have been deemed in need of care and protection.

In dealing with the matter of children in state care, it cannot be sufficient for the society to be outraged when they are harmed within the facilities. The collective conscience of the nation has to move to the place where we seek to reduce, if not eliminate, the conditions which lead to our children ending up in institutional care.

Take, for example, the fact that every day, between January and October 2010, 20 children and adolescents ages 0-19 were treated in emergency rooms for intentional violence-related injuries, which included more than 19,000 cases of sexual assault, stab wounds, gunshots and blunt-force injury. Also, consider that between January to October 2010, boys and girls aged 10-19 years accounted for 25.3 per cent of all intentional injuries, 27 per cent of all stab wound cases, 42 per cent of all attempted suicides, and notably 68 per cent of all Jamaicans who reported being sexually assaulted.

No love for children

Clearly, there are deep systemic issues affecting children living in residential homes as wards of the state. The data is clear. We do not love all our children, and it is always convenient for us to ride the backs of the unfortunate ones to advance our selfish agendas.

Unless we deal decisively with the issues which give rise to children ending up in state care, the calls for resignations and claims of inappropriate introduction of materials or programmes will be a recurring decimal.

We can start the process of reform by being a more caring, gentler people. We can start taking responsibility for our many actions and discharge our parental and civil responsibilities in a manner which will redound to the reformation and advancement of our society. It is good to be outraged whenever incidents like the one orchestrated by JFJ occur. If only we leave the hypocrisy at the door when we go to war, so many of our children wouldn't be casualties.

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