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Let's trim the thorns

BY YOHAN LEE

Thursday, June 15, 2017

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One Bible story that may be applied to today's world is the Parable of the Sower. The parable details what takes place as a farmer goes about sowing seeds. As he walked across his land, some of the seeds fell by the wayside and birds ate them. Others fell on shallow soil and withered because of a lack of strong roots. A third set fell among thorns, while the remaining seeds fell on good soil.

This particular parable, therefore, describes different categories of believers and emphasises the need to have a strong foundation in biblical teachings, in order to grow in faith.

It is also possible to use this parable as a metaphor for a number of other things. For example, it can be used to explain institutional racism or classism. We (the seeds) all do not start at the same place and so, when some of us are born under better living conditions by chance, we are more likely to flourish.

The same arguably works at the level of nations. Some countries are on good soil with great natural resources, as well as a history of economic development, which have allowed them to provide general access to quality education and social services to their most vulnerable. Jamaica, sadly, presents as being on shallow soil and among thorns.

The shallow soil is our history of colonial exploitation, which has left us with systems that were not crafted for the benefit of our people, such as an imbalanced education system, Eurocentric values, systemic racism and classism, among others. The thorns that continue to choke the life out of our development are those persons and groups who want to hold the country ransom and, by extension, stymie its development.

I am referring to groups such as Jamaica Coalition for a Healthy Society, Jamaica CAUSE, Lawyers' Christian Fellowship, among others, which refuse to allow Jamaica to address a wide cross-section of challenges it faces and provide stronger legal protection for all citizens.

These groups consistently defend weak laws that directly affect the country's capacity to address serious issues of national development. And like thorns, their actions are void of legitimate purpose. Instead, their personal biases are the reason they shout at the Government each time they think they see something with a rainbow on it. When they aren't busy battling with the Ministry of Education about providing sex education to Jamaica's youth, they are barking at the minister of justice about his statements in the PANCAP Parliamentarian Forum.

While they remain hell-bent on preventing this nation from dealing with issues around sexual and reproductive health, these are the facts:

1) A 2015 report on Jamaica indicated that only 39 per cent of girls and 34 per cent of boys ages 15-19 had comprehensive and correct knowledge of HIV, notwithstanding the presence of Home and Family Life Education curriculum in schools.

2) Jamaica is recorded in 2013 as having a teenage pregnancy rate of 7.2 per cent in the World State of the Population Report.

3) Jamaica's National Integrated Strategic Plan for Sexual Health and HIV (2014-2019) read together with the 2013 HIV and AIDS Legal Assessment indicates that the buggery law, the criminalisation of sex work and similar laws act as a barrier, preventing persons in vulnerable groups from accessing HIV prevention, treatment and care services.

These realities highlight the need to ensure accurate sex education is readily accessible in all secondary schools. Teenagers need to be able to access sexual and reproductive health services to prevent unwanted pregnancies, and laws which function as barriers to the national HIV response need to be changed. The reports referred to above benefit from a significant body of research, which generally concludes that legal and policy shifts are priority with regard to laws related to sexual activity.

In that context, I cannot imagine why these purported Christian lobby groups are so adamantly opposed to change. The minister of justice did not just get up and say he wants to remove the buggery law because he feels like it. His position is a principled one, stated in the context of addressing the HIV epidemic.

He was quite right for pointing out that these groups are the ones that are holding the country back. As I noted above, they are the thorns choking the life out of a country trying to move forward.

Jamaica may not be able to change history, but the soil we have is the soil we must use and nourish. What we can change, however, is the practice of allowing extremist groups to hinder progress because of their threatening demeanour. To the Government I say, trim the thorns!

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