Some say that the root cause of Jamaica’s frighteningly high murder rate is a corrupt political system and/or an incompetent police force. Now there is no doubt that in the 1970s politicians actively fomented violence and armed their supporters and that organized inner city drug and extortion gangs still maintain a residual party allegiance. And it is true that in many areas a lot of our policing methods leave a lot to be desired.


But is difficult to see how either the government or the police are in any way responsible for the hundreds of domestic murders that take place each year. Every day in the paper we see reports that “two men were involved in a dispute whereupon one took a knife and stabbed the other killing him on the spot”.


In 1999 there were 849 homicides in Jamaica. Police statistics gave the following breakdown.

















The other category included prisoner disturbances, mob killings, political, police/criminal confrontations and rape. The police estimate that most reprisals originate with drug/gang or domestic killings. This would mean that 356 or 42% of murders committed last year originated in domestic disputes. This is a rate of 14 per 100,000. So even if you magically eliminated all other sources of murder, our domestic murders alone would give us one of the highest homicide rates in the world.


In a global context Jamaica falls somewhere in the middle of most categories. We rank 126th in PPP per capita GDP and 36th in healthy life expectancy out of roughly 200 countries and 50th in estimated corruption out of 100 countries. But in three areas we stand out. Jamaica has the world’s highest income disparity, the third highest murder rate, and - though there are no comparative figures available - our out of wedlock birth rate of 85% must be one of the highest anywhere. Are these facts somehow related?


Studies abroad definitely show that there is a strong link between fatherlessness and violence. In her book “The War Against Boys” Professor Christina Hoff Sommers’ says “Despite the difficulty of proving causation in social science the wealth of evidence increasingly supports the conclusion that fatherlessness is the primary generator of violence among young men.”


But what causes fatherlessness? That is another complex problem. After all though the problem is extreme here, Jamaica is not the only country with the problem. In the early 1960s the American “illegitimacy” rate was 23% for blacks and 4% for whites. It is now 33% overall and 68% for blacks. Britain’s out of wedlock birthrate was 5% in 1950. It is now about 40%. As in black America, Jamaica’s fatherlessness problem has been traced by some sociologists to the institution of slavery. But in both places it has risen in the past half century. But whatever its cause there is little doubt about its consequences. Increased fatherlessness is almost inevitably accompanied by increased violent crime.


Of course the vast majority of single parent children – like the vast majority of nuclear family children - grow up to be well adjusted adults. It is only a tiny deviant minority of any population that grows up to be criminals - only 1 out of every 780 Jamaicans are now in prison. What studies are showing is that this deviant minority will be considerably larger among children who grow up without a father.


The logic then seems to be obvious. As long as Jamaica has one of the world’s highest out of wedlock birthrates, we are going to have one of the world’s highest murder rates. If you one to cut one, you have to cut the other.


Unless of course we are going to take the hard core US rate and simply start putting a lot more people in prison. Between 1980 and 2000 the US prison population quadrupled and its incarceration rate is the highest in the world, and over five times that of Jamaica’s. But it has paid off in crime fighting terms, the US homicide rate has dropped by 50% since 1990.


Jamaica probably cannot afford to build five times as many prisons as we now have. So logic says we should concentrate on trying to do what we can, which is to try and reduce our out of wedlock birthrate. And various suggestions have been made in the past.  Educational and counseling classes encouraging young men and women to change their normative expectations is one option. While strictly enforcing statutary rape and child support laws would have some long run effect.


And yet it the reality is that very few of those with real power seem to think take even these basic steps, as a recent talk with Dr. Melbourne of the Manchester medical family division made clear.





s violence has deeper roots than politics or policing. Indeed many our problems in these areas – the tribalism, the quick resort to brute force – are symptoms not causes of our social problems. The ‘its all the politicians’ fault!” brigade forget that Jamaicans choose their own leaders. If – as some say – our politicians are corrupt and inefficient and our police brutal it is only a reflection of the society from which they sprung.










“Despite the difficulty of proving causation in social science the wealth of evidence increasingly supports the conclusion that fatherlessness is the primary generator of violence among young men.” So writes Christina Hoff Sommers’ in her book “The War Against Boys”.




The problems that we are facing in our society have little or nothing to do with misogyny or patriarchy and everything to do with a child’s need for developing a conscience, for moral instruction, for parents who love them and who model responsible behavior., I think it’s very odd that they could call a society in which women are better educated than men, healthier, living longer—that this could be described as a society oppressive to women. A lot of what I say strikes me as being little more than plain common sense. But, in gender equity circles, common sense is hard to come by.



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