“The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.” – Ezekiel 18:20 (King James Version)
Faced with an upsurge in school violence, including stabbings and cutlass attacks, and scrambling for an effective response on the eve of a general election, Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite yesterday announced that new legislation would be introduced “in another week or two” that would hold parents responsible for the sins of their children, “because you have to accept that there is a relationship between the behaviour that you are seeing manifested at the schools and what is happening now”.
It was music to the ears of some Barbadians who take the “he that spareth his rod hateth his son” (Proverb 13:24) much too literally.
“Every (sic) since I say that law should be implemented now you’ll see how many parents will straighten out their unruly kid. . .” a poster with the moniker, Olivia Thornhill, commented on Barbados TODAY’s Facebook page.
“It’s about time, some encourage their children to do these things so let them spend time or pay too. See how fast they start to train them,” poster Mark Josef wrote.
But not everyone saw the rationale for this proposed legislation, with many a commenter questioning why, like the amendment to the Police Act, the announcement that hundreds of tenants in Government housing will own their homes and the promise to appoint thousands of civil servants, the administration waited until the eve of a likely difficult election before it could act.
After all, school violence is nothing new, and as Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Education Harry Husbands said today at a meeting with teachers of Grantley Adams Memorial School: “There are longstanding traditional issues in our schools like country children versus town children. We all know that this has long been an issue but the difference now is that there is easy access to weapons of one sort or another.”
The suspicions notwithstanding, let us pause for a moment and consider the implications of what the Attorney General is proposing – the legislation of parenting.
He did not give details, and in the absence of such information, we are left to speculate what could possibly be in the legislation that will fix the underlying problem of youth violence, including the glaring social problems that the country faces.
Is the Attorney General proposing to fine, or even jail, a single mother with three or four children, if one of these children commits a violent crime? How will this stop other children for engaging in deviant behaviour? At what age will the child become responsible for his or her action? Will the law deal with civil liability only, or criminal liability? Or is Mr Brathwaite simply trying to scare parents into paying attention?
Parent responsibly laws are nothing new. Several states in the United States have varying statutes that attempt to address the issue of parents’ responsibility. However, knowing what we know – the Columbine shooting in 1999, the Kentucky school shooting earlier this year, and many more come to mind – do we really want to use the US as a role model in this.
Other Commonwealth countries – Australia and the United Kingdom, for example – have either attempted or enacted various parent responsibility laws, including the 1998 and 2003 laws in the UK that provide for parenting contracts and parenting orders, and empowers youth offending teams and local education authorities to enter into contracts with parents in order to prevent a child from engaging in criminal conduct or anti-social behaviour or to ensure that the child goes to school regularly. Contracts may require the parents to attend a counselling or guidance programme, among other requirements.
However, experts such as Australian academics Richard Hil and Anthony McMahon, insist that research studies examining the link between parenting and juvenile crime are analytically and conceptually flawed. Others argue that the laws are counterproductive and will not be effective for various reasons, including the fact that they fail to deal with the causes of inadequate parenting, and increase tensions within families.
With the general election approaching, we expect many promises and the spinning of reality. And as we wallow in anger against those who commit crimes, our political leaders will become tumescent with rage, growl with righteous anger, and promise to unleash their wrath on anyone involved in social deviance.
However, what we need are appropriate and effective programmes that will help the parents of troublesome youth, not penalize them. We have to look after the needs of the precariat class, the majority of whom are young people, rather than spitting venom at them and parents who are struggling to make ends meet.
In a nutshell, our Government has a duty to provide the means by which our lives will be improved and our society can develop, and less of the neo-feudal world of seigneurial privilege and modern serfdom to which we seem to be regressing.
Mr Brathwaite and the Democratic Labour Party administration are clearly trying to placate a restive electorate. However, in so doing, they must not usher in the age of the apparatchik.