LAST week I spoke about the lack of proper parenting skills being Jamaica's fundamental problem -- and the root cause of almost every challenge we face.
The reality, however, is that much of this parenting crisis comes from a lack of discipline and order in the society, in many instances promoted by people who should know better. In other words, many of our leaders, especially policymakers, are aware of the unethical and sometimes illegal social issues we face, but do little to address them. And so in many ways, ignoring these issues means that we are complicit in the consequences.
Just last week, Gary "Butch" Hendrickson commented on something I had really not reflected on before. Butch indicated that the violation of the Noise Abatement Act was actually one of the primary causes of social inequality.
At first I didn't understand what he meant, but he went on to explain that when a child in a depressed community has to deal with music being played at loud decibels way into wee hours, that child loses a good night's sleep and is not properly prepared for school the next day. In addition, the child has to get up early and hustle on public transportation to go to school, often without the benefit of a proper breakfast.
Contrast this to a child from a middle- or upper-income family, who may live away from night noises, or whose family can insulate him from them so he can get a good night's rest and wake up refreshed and ready to learn. In addition, that child can sleep longer because he will be driven to school and will also receive proper nourishment before leaving home.
In both cases, each child is born with the same physical and mental capacity, but because of different circumstances there will more than likely be different results. The child from the inner city may rise up against the odds, but will have to do so under more challenging conditions.
It is also important to point out that apart from lack of sleep and proper nutrition, the child from the lower-income family also faces the challenge of a daily assault on our less-than- adequate and often abusive transportation system. Not only must this child wake up one or two hours earlier, but must also fight with the disorganised system, and be pushed around and sometimes shouted at by transport operators who want to maximise their earnings in the midst of the indiscipline on our roads. We can also talk about the physical danger they face with the poor driving practices of many transport operators.
This lack of order also extends to our crime problem, as the child from the inner city is confronted more directly with many of the crimes being committed and interfaces directly with the outcome of crimes -- even if not committed against him. Again, the child from the middle or upper class is insulated from many of these crimes.
Many children today face issues of abuse -- physical (including sexual) and mental. This occurs at all levels of society, creating social inequality by giving the abused child a greater reason to fail in life.
This is one of my pet peeves, as for the life of me I cannot understand why the child authorities and court system find it so difficult to come to grips with child abuse. This should be the priority of the justice system as our failure to adequately address child abuse just creates more criminal deviants in the future. Nor can I understand our failure to hold accountable those parents who take to the streets to sell or beg with their young children at their side. This is in plain sight, but nothing is done about it.
I have personally reported (around twice) a woman I see on Sundays at a gas station seated with two or three young children begging for money and food. One of the children (a young lady) seems to have grown up and is now begging as well. Still nothing is done about it
So after reflecting on what Butch said, it came home to me. In just that one comment he said a whole lot about why many families face generational poverty and failure, and why there is a divide between income classes as it relates to probability for success.
In other words, our failure to impose discipline and structure on our society has promoted the persistence of social inequality, which in turn is at the heart of our labour productivity and ultimate economic issues. No passing of any IMF test or even a proper growth agenda can solve this problem sustainably.
If we are to solve this, we must first consider it a national crisis and it must be dealt with as such by the authorities.
Just as we have a major focus on murders, we must give the same attention to indiscipline and lawlessness. For example, the stop lights in Kingston are now are like Coronation Market with window wipers, vendors, peddlers, pedestrians crossing at will, and people just seeming to be hanging out. This seems like a low-hanging fruit. If the stop lights are cleaned up, that would be such a big boost to the perception of order -- instead of ignoring it and creating an industry that we soon say we can't get rid of because it is creating a livelihood for persons.
We must also get serious about imposing the Noise Abatement Act, and understand the social inequality and injustice we promote when we allow people to disturb others with noise (not just music) any time of the day. We must also get serious about prosecuting child abuse cases, and also issue harsh penalties to adults (and parents especially) who know about child abuse and do nothing about it.
We must also support the JUTC in its effort to clean up the transport system and not allow preaching, eating, playing music, or any other disturbance to passengers. Personally, I would like to see a proper school bus system. And we must deal with undisciplined drivers and other users of the roads -- such as pedestrians who ignore traffic signs, cyclists who ride on the wrong side of the road, or people who illegally park on Knutsford Boulevard (sometimes while in the car) in plain view of police.
This is not about passing new legislation, as that is already in place. It is about the will to enforce it and to realise that our culture of giving a man a "bligh" does nothing more than create indiscipline and lawlessness, which affects negatively the same man we don't want to "fight against". It is only when we start to do this that we can provide equal opportunities to all for true social and economic development. Each of us has some responsibility.