Sun | Feb 17, 2019

Letter of the Day | Address the plight of the most vulnerable urgently

Published:Thursday | May 17, 2018 | 12:00 AM


Earlier this month, Jamaica was awakened to the news of a horrible bloodbath taking place in Westmoreland. This is not a typical occurrence in Westmoreland. However, I must say that I am not surprised. It is indeed 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 of 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 PATH 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 ganga. This problem was discovered during the early days of the introduction of the programme 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 made to account for and penalised for their irresponsible actions.


Inertia in tackling problems


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 in our backyard we can simply walk away from them 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 surrounding communities and eventually to 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 horn and to use long-term measures to adequately address the causes of our decaying society.

J. Bartley