Lock up Child Molesters

Published: Sunday | January 21, 2007

Actions speak louder than words. So you have to wonder if, despite all the public lamentations, Jamaicans really want to change anything in this country. Sure, everyone says they want more jobs and less crime. But no one, from top to bottom, seems willing to make even the slightest alteration in their lifestyle to attain any of these goals.

You certainly can't use the media or even loudly-asserted man on the street opinions to judge how this society really feels about things. Politicians, pastors and business luncheon speakers regularly make soaring orations about how we need to 'Strengthen the Jamaican family!' and 'Protect our children!' But not only are laws to accomplish these things never passed, even existing ones are more often than not ignored.

Every Christmas, Easter and 'Emancipendence' we see a spate of young children - usually under 6 - burnt to death because their mothers have left them alone and gone to some dance. Between last Grand Market and New Year's at least seven youngsters died like this.

Despite the entirely predictable yearly carnage, I can't recall any such careless woman being convicted of negligence, abandonment or child endangerment to set an example to other careless mothers. There is always lots of hue and cry from family, community and police at the crime scene.

more stringent efforts

But, nine days of outrage coincides with nine nights of mourning and then all is forgotten until the next child is burnt to death. And the cycle repeats itself. Why are Jamaicans For Justice or other advocacy groups not making more stringent efforts to protect the most vulnerable among us, the helpless babies?

As to strengthening the Jamaican family, less than half of our children even have a registered father. Legislation could be passed allowing the mother to compel the father to put his name on the birth certificate, with DNA verification if needed. Chile, for one, has such a law. But for all the big talk, no one in Jamaica seems interested in actually doing anything to legally reinforce parental commitment. t

Another favourite soapbox theme of knee-jerk outrage applause seekers is carnal abuse. "Leave the little girls alone!" "Lock up child molesters and throw away the key!" How often we hear such cries and cheering! And how little is done to back them up with real action!

A few intelligent laws would virtually eliminate teenage pregnancy. First, make it compulsory for medical personnel to report every under-16 pregnancy - civilised countries like Barbados already have such laws - just as they have to report other unlawful incidents, like gunshot wounds. Then, if the mother names the father, immediately DNA tests him against the baby. If she refuses, DNA test any male suspected of having slept with her. If there is a match, jail any adult culprit responsible for the maximum term.

Naturally, as in most countries, you make exceptions for 'puppy love' incidents where the male is close in age to the females. If, say, he is under 18 and there is no coercion, counselling is obviously the appropriate course. But why should a 30-year-old man who seduces and impregnates a 13-year-old girl escape the full penalty of the law?

By taking the matter completely out of the girl's or her parents' hands you would prevent any 'big man' buying them off, or any 'bad man' intimidating them into dropping charges. At the same time, the state should make provisions for the care and upbringing of the child in question. The innocent should not suffer for the guilty. Not that it would make a great difference in most cases, since most underage mothers get little, if any, financial or emotional support from the sperm depositor.

Such a procedure would drastically reduce the number of teenage pregnancies in a very short time. If men knew there was a strong chance that they would go to jail if they impregnated a young girl, they would at the very least make sure they used a condom - and teenage girls are the highest at-risk group for AIDS.

vicious circle

The real problem with underage sex is that too often girls who are still children end up having children. Not having matured emotionally or mentally themselves, they are unlikely to be able to help their children develop in a healthy manner - and so a vicious circle.

The subsequent reduction in teenage pregnancy and sexually-transmitted diseases would greatly reduce the drain on the heath system, since teenage pregnancies have a far higher incidence of complications. It would also help reduce the incidence of AIDS, another big budget cost.

So why are such laws not in place? I have no idea. Maybe most Jamaicans don't see underage pregnancy as a real big deal. Our legislators obviously don't. But they make big to-dos about buggery laws which affect only consenting adults.

Some human rights advocates argue that compelling suspects to give DNA evidence without their permission is a violation of their 'right to privacy'. So you end up with infamous cases like that of some years ago. A pregnant 15-year-old girl was found murdered. The alleged father-to-be, who had been charged for carnal abuse, was the murder suspect. Because of our weak DNA laws, his DNA sample was not taken. This man, when out on bail later, became the prime suspect in a double murder. If there had been a conviction on the first crime, innocent people's lives would very likely have been spared.

Places like Britain, America and even Cayman give judges who think there is reasonable cause the power to issue warrants for DNA samples to be taken. And DNA testing can prove or disprove the paternity of the child beyond any reasonable doubt. The same could also apply to rape cases where semen has been collected. This would almost certainly increase the percentage of rape convictions, not to mention lessening the incidences of women who report rape being intimidated into dropping charges or murdered because dead people can't testify. But you can't kill or intimidate DNA.

Sometimes Jamaica feels like a twilight zone. How can a country with the world's highest murder rate not place the highest priority on correcting the legal loopholes that allow such blatant injustices to take place?

Yet, the Government keeps twiddling its thumbs on such matters. And the just as useless Opposition joins in the deafening silence. This is not a case, as is the usual excuse, of 'we can't afford it'. It's just sheer laziness and incompetence.

Or maybe self-interest. For our non-existent family structures provide an unending stream of poor and fatherless - and hence emotionally and financially needy - young girls. Why would our politicians and big businessmen want to change such a system? Especially when no one is pressing them to.

Apparently, the common people are just as happy with the way things are. For the ultimate blame in a democracy must fall on the people. Jamaicans will get politicians to pass laws to eliminate underage pregnancy and cut our murder rate when they start demanding them. But this a a country where not even 200 people turned up for the last anti-crime march but 30,000 tore down Emanci-pation Park for the 2005 Rising Star finals. Patient nuh care, doctor nuh care.

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