Letters to the Editor

We let things get this bad

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

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Dear Editor,

Earlier this month, Jamaica was awakened to the news of a horrible bloodbath taking place in Westmoreland. According to the reports, 17 people were shot, with seven of the victims dying, following an exchange of gunfire among gang members. This is not a typical occurrence in Westmoreland; however, I must say that I am not surprised. It has indeed been an atrocity in the making.

Years ago a friend of mine who worked at the Ministry of Labour and Social Security informed me that Westmoreland was the 'least compliant parish' in terms of children who meet the requirement for obtaining Programme for Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH) benefits. According to the requirement, students must be in school at least 80 per cent of the time in order to receive financing under the programme. The average attendance of students in Westmoreland is below 75 per cent. The level of school dropout in this part of the island was restated recently by the police as a serious problem.

My friend said that their investigation revealed that children were kept out of school on many occasions by their parents in order to assist them with planting and selling. This problem was discovered during the early days of the introduction of PATH in 2002. Could you imagine how different things would be today if the authorities, who were well aware of the level of truancy in Westmoreland, had acted with urgency to address the problem? Parents should have been penalised for their irresponsible actions.

I have noted over the years that there is, generally, an inertia when it comes to nabbing a problem as it buds. This is coupled with our lack of concern for the plight of the most vulnerable in our society. We seem to believe that by shunning the problems we can simply walk away from it unscathed. Jamaica is too small for us to entertain such views. What happens next door is bound to affect you.

Decades ago, much of Jamaica's violence was concentrated in downtown Kingston, where many lived in dire circumstances. We seemed to believe then that the violence would not migrate to other communities and eventually the entire island. As with Westmoreland, we simply ignored the plight of residents and, in many instances, shunned them by denying employment to anyone who hails from those communities. In fact, the only anti-crime tactic that we seem willing to employ is to have more ardent policing rather than addressing the root of the problem by dealing with the social issues.

As a nation, we must be willing to take the bull by the horns and to use long-term measures to adequately address the causes of our decaying society.

J Bartley





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