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Messages to moms only?

By Dana Seetahal

Today we honour the work and memory of our late
columnist Dana Seetahal SC by republishing the final in a series of three of the many articles she wrote for the Express.

In the wake of convictions in recent times of women for offences of abuse against their children the question that must be posed is—where were the fathers in all of this? From the news reports on the cases where, for instance, one mother burned her daughter’s hand and another left her children alone during the night, it is clear that these women were functioning virtually as single mothers. While one does not at all condone the conduct which gives rise to the offences one must factor into the equation the fact that at some level these moms may have been functioning under great stress.
The statements by some that the magistrates’ sentences would serve to send a message to abusive moms that their behaviour would have repercussions do not take into account the obvious—it takes two to tango. In other words what about sending a message to delinquent or dead-beat fathers?
In our society, where year after year it is clear that girls are outdoing boys academically whether as early as the SEA or later at CXC and university, it must be something of an anomaly that there are so many girls and women out there who are bearing two, three or even five children outside the enclave of marriage or without the apparent commitment to a long term relationship on the part of the fathers. Naturally when a woman moves on from one man to another and has another child with the other man and that relationship ends, she is the one who is deemed loose or a “slut”. Nothing is said of the men for the obvious reason that men do not themselves bear children.
It has been said that some women have a child with a man as a means of ensuring financial support, especially if they have had children before with someone else. As an argument explaining the proliferation of child-bearing among some women this holds little weight with me. That might possibly have been so in the past when men were the chief breadwinners but not today.
Nowadays from my observation and practice in the courts of T&T women are the ones who primarily look after their children. In the case of unmarried mothers they are the ones who chiefly bear their financial needs. They work in low-paying jobs (such as in the security industry) just to maintain their children. These days the kind of man who would want a woman to have a child for him just for him to contribute to the household where two persons are living together, often cannot even afford to maintain himself properly. Having a child is just a bragging right for such a man, so that he can tell his friends he has X number of children.
So when our society talks and lambastes a few mothers who might have abused their children should we not first ask ourselves how did this situation happen?
What are these young girls in or barely out of their teens doing having children for men who either are not serious about the relationship; are themselves too young for the responsibility of fatherhood and/or have no legitimate source of income?
In a society where abortion is against the law young girls or women who become pregnant are forced prematurely into becoming mothers. It is said that in T&T a high percentage of teenagers are sexually active. Clearly boys are not going to be active by themselves. The girls either for religious reasons, through ignorance or out of fear of being found out if they access the free services, do not practice birth control. On becoming pregnant they are the ones who have to deal with the repercussions; in their own minds they are the ones who have lost their youth.
Outside of stable marriages our society has a high percentage of fathers who have had little to do with their children, financially or otherwise. The young boys are effectively “fatherless” and so live in homes with caregivers who are mainly women. Thus these young boys who become men see themselves as having little to do with the home: it is a house in which they live but to which they contribute little financially. Oftentimes they are spoilt by mothers who may even call upon their sisters to serve them.
The point I am making is that we continue to perpetuate a society where young boys and men are not just underperforming educationally but as fathers as well.
Too often they seem to believe that their roles end with the sexual act and it is the woman’s business not just to rear the child but to provide for the child in all ways. I am not only referring here to dead-beat dads who do not even pay the court-designated amount in child support but all the others who put having a good time and liming with the boys at the top of their list. And then when something happens to their child they are among the first handing out blame to the mother.
What can be done? While fathers and husbands who already are part of stable families still constitute perhaps a bare majority in T&T, it seems to me that the proliferation of “single mothers” is increasing. While girls and women are the ones to bear children and it is easy to say that the buck stops there, given the realities of life, it does not.
The Ministry of Education, the Ministry of the People and the Ministry of Gender Affairs need to spearhead a drive to reverse the current trend whereby too many boys and men are not taking on responsibility and are otherwise generally underperforming. We have enough experts in the country to confront this real problem and the time to do it is now or our society will become increasingly burdened with the consequences.
(This article was first published on July 7, 2012)
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