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More money, less care - Is long-distance love from foreign-based parents enough?

Published:Sunday | January 31, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Mark Beckford, Staff Reporter

These children, three of eight, were listed as being abandoned by their mother in St Catherine in 2007. Sociologist Dr Claudette Crawford-Brown said the absence of the mother from the lives of children is very significant and affects their well-being. - Ian Allen/Staff Photographer

SOCIOLOGIST Dr Claudette Crawford-Brown has identified a new phenomenon of 'Western Union' children who have replaced the concept of 'barrel' children in Jamaica.

Barrel children in the past were identified as those who did not have the physical presence of their parents, but were sent goodies through shipments from overseas.

The sociologist, however, said that the barrel-children phenomenon has been surpassed by parents who give their children remittances. The difference between the two is the amount of care involved.

"You don't have the barrel children as I highlighted seven years ago, where you had parents sending children things in a barrel. We now have what you call 'Western Union' children, and these are children who are parented by cellphones and they are sent the money. However, when you have a barrel child, that mother goes into K-Mart or Wal-Mart and I see them and watch them and they say: 'I wonder if this going fit Sasha', and she takes out the shoes with the mark out on the paper and match it with the shoes, and say this will fit her, this will fit her. You know what that shows? Some amount of care," she said.

Dr Crawford-Brown was speaking at the American Friends of Jamaica and Sue Cobb Lecture Series at the University of the West Indies last Thursday evening.

According to her, many of these children who receive money through remittances are not given proper guidance, thus the money they have access to can be used to purchase drugs or facilitate their participation in illicit activities.

remittance inflows

For the first nine months of the 2009-10 fiscal year (April to December), some US$1,186.3 million was remitted to Jamaica from overseas. For all of 2009, total remittance inflows were US$1,355.2 million. A large percentage of this money is sent from parents abroad to finance children living on the island.

Noel Greenland, vice-president - marketing and product development at Gracekennedy Remittance Services, explains that the rise in remittance option over the sending of barrels is a direct result of local access to foreign goods." ... local vendors have access to foreign goods at competitive prices, hence sending the money is even more efficient than sending a barrel. The barrel-sending phenomenon came about because access to these goods was denied or not available. Family members who have opportunities migrate in order to better care for their loved ones left behind and they seek to do this in the most efficient way possible. With the average size of remittance transactions being around US$200, this is in no way responsible for the downturn in the barrel trade."

But remittances, as we have always known it, have always been available, even with the barrells, for basic care like school fees, purchase of food and medicine, Greenland said.

Crawford-Brown pointed out even with remittances and barrels, the absence of mother in a child's life has the same impact on youths as the absence of fathers. She noted that the absence of parental guidance leaves these children vulnerable to negative influences, where many turn to violence and drugs to cope.

"It is the absence of the mother which proved to be most significant and this was one of the things that we were greatly concerned with. Mothers of children whose sons were in jail were absent."

She said her research had indicated that children whose mother had died or had migrated displayed behavioural problems.

"Mothers were absent; in this population absence is important, but not only absence, contact. Mother might be there but mother is not being mother because she is at Passa Passa in the night, she is not there with the children to cook porridge in the morning. We are finding those ethical issues with parenting just as serious as the traditional absence."

protecting children

She called for a more integrated approach by agencies dedicated to protecting children to allow for a better environment to foster their development.

The noted child advocate and sociologist said many behavioural problems shown among some children are as a result of the breakdown in the family and exposure to violence.

Crawford-Brown also said that Jamaica needs to tackle apathy towards murder in the society, which has trickled down to children she has worked with.

The sociologist said that children in a particular community in Kingston had shared how they had seen more than five murders. They have adopted, she shared, an 'A nuh nutten' syndrome due to such exposure.

"Individuals view violence as commonplace and unimportant. Death is not as significant as it needs to be. There is a level of apathy and evidence of what I call scar tissue on the psyche of the children, the families, the communities and society of which they are a part," she said.