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Mayday in May! Children in danger

Published:Sunday | May 6, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Esther Tyson, Contributor

May is Child Month. It's a good time to reflect on the condition of many of our children in Jamaica. Repeated reports in the newspapers, talk shows and other media highlight the pockets of good Samaritans around our nation who are reaching out to assist so many children who have little or no financial or emotional support. I am thankful for these caring individuals in our society.

There are, however, too many of our children who are suffering abuse - physical, emotional, mental and sexual. The horror stories of sexual abuse being reported in the last month were unbelievable in some instances. The tragedies that have been made of some of our children's lives by fellow Jamaicans are heartbreaking.

It speaks to a nation that needs to stop and assess our culture and address those aspects of our thinking that have led us to brutalise our children. There are some persons who see 'culture' as a sacrosanct construct. Once something is done in the name of 'culture', it's generally accepted. Our culture includes not only our art, music and literature, but it encompasses our philosophy, values, beliefs and principles.

With this definition in mind, it must be clear to us that something is seriously wrong with aspects of our culture. One thing that's definitely wrong is the way we view our children.

Many of our children are conceived unintentionally. This is in spite of widespread birth-control campaigns. These children are mere by-products of sexual passion. They are not planned for, nor prepared for. Many of them are seen as 'accidents'.

They are born into this world to a mother who sometimes is not even quite sure who the father is. Then there are mothers who are having affaires with married men and who don't want to say who the father is. Then there are girls who have got pregnant by some 'big man' in the community or society and whose mothers have deliberately given them to these men - and there are other variations of that story.

Then there are the girls who are made pregnant by their mother's boyfriend, stepfather, brother, uncle, cousin. Incest, as is being revealed, is very widespread in Jamaica. The scenario changes, but the story remains the same. Many of our children are born into this world but are not wanted.

The most revolting situation is that of so many girls and babies being raped. Sometimes these girls get pregnant. The practice that a man will be cured of sexually transmitted infections if he has sex with a virgin has resulted in much abuse. This is a part of our culture that needs to change. The widespread belief among some men that if they are supporting a family and the little girl enters puberty that they must 'taste first', is disgusting, to say the least. The practice of the dons in communities mandating that a mother must send her pubescent daughter to him first is sickening. All of these practices are part of our culture. We must change our nation.

The UNICEF report on children in Jamaica states the following:

"Children are the most affected by the increasing violence in Jamaica, as it undermines their access to education, their learning abilities, and affects their psychological and social well-being.

Sometimes physical and psychological violence is inflicted on children by those entrusted with their care, including parents, guardians and teachers. A 2004 survey among Jamaican parents of six-year-olds found that the majority (46.6 per cent) used physical assault as a disciplinary method with their children. This included spanking, beating, pinching, tying of hands, and shaking.

Migration of parents who seek more lucrative employment abroad has had a negative impact on Jamaican children. Some children are left in the care of strangers, neighbours or even older siblings who are still children. These so-called 'barrel children' are left without parental guidance or adult supervision, yet with access to significant material resources in the form of cash remittances and barrels of clothing and toys sent by absentee parents."

Many of our children do not know their fathers, or do not have a relationship with their fathers. It is heartening to know that the law now requires that the father's name be entered on a child's birth certificate. Notwithstanding this, there are so many children who are suffering from various psychological problems because of rejection by their fathers or abuse by their fathers.

A large number of our children are not being properly socialised. All of this impacts the child, not only socially but also cognitively. The child entering basic school who is is having difficulties learning the alphabet has sometimes not learnt many basic skills through early stimulation. One belief that affects this is that of "unnu play too much". Some persons do not realise that it is through play that children learn and develop their psychomotor skills. These children have difficulties coping in school. The Grade One Readiness Inventory will be reflecting the lack of readiness of many of our students for a long time unless we begin to change the destructive aspects of our culture.

This problem of lack of readiness for the various grade levels carries through into high school. We will, therefore, continue to have children going into high school who are illiterate and innumerate. Many of these children have not been taught how to relate to other persons in non-violent ways. They get angry easily and resort to the learnt behaviour of retaliation by violence. Therefore, we end up with a school population of students, many of whom have little love or support at home, some of whom have been poorly socialised, very many who have learning challenges, and a great number with a hopeless view of themselves and their future.

I believe that as much as our environment is in trouble, our children and family life are in even greater trouble. An arm of the Government should be set up to address this immediate and terrible danger.

Esther Tyson is an educator. Email feedback to and