Op-Ed: Children in the midst of damning poverty

Op-Ed: Children in the midst of damning poverty
Joseph Darville.

“Suffer The Little Children to come unto Me, for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven” 

By Joe Darville

As Sarah Ann McMahan reflects: “Foot washing is messy business; it means getting down on your knees to mingle with the dirt of the human condition, and doing whatever is possible to try to clean it up with our own hands. It means to be intimately, personally involved in life-giving, compassionate ways in the suffering filth of those who must walk without shoes on the bare paths of meaninglessness and pain.”

Let’s take a cursory look at our situation at the dawning of 50 years of Independence! A very small percent of our population owns and controls over half of the wealth of this nation. The vast majority of our people, those who can find work, live from pay cheque to pay cheque. Nevertheless, we are, because of our gross national product, classified as one of the richest small nations in the region, with an enviable per capita income. However, we cannot even institute and livable wage, just a minimum!?

The inherent inequities in our system can easily permit the strangling hold of poverty, or near poverty, however, to reign supreme in our small nation. It is socially and morally dangerous for any society to permit such differences. Statistics indicate that the chances that a child from low income, near-poverty level, will grow out of this, and become successful are only one in four; whereas, the chances for one from a high-level income to drop to a low level of success is one in fifty. The predominance of this state of deprivation impacts most negatively on the young, our children.

Particularly in Grand Bahama, and in New Providence, mothers, who are the sole providers for their children, cannot supply their basic needs. Consequently, their male off-springs get caught up in nefarious activities to supply their needs. The young girls, as young as eleven years, prostitute themselves, in some cases even with the tacit approval of their mothers, in order to provide basic material needs. Many of them cannot attend school in proper uniform were it not for their male suppliers. 

Then, of course, no one is ignorant of what takes place upon leaving school. The situation is perpetuated, only now do they begin to bear children for these ‘good’ gentlemen. And, thus, the vicious cycle continues. Many of our children lose for they are never given a chance to win. Young girls bear children and young me resort to crime and violence,

Then, some of us, simply out of political expediency are so ignorant and insensitive to suggest that there is no correlation between poverty, unemployment, and crime. What crime is more heinous and detestable than that where our young girls and boys prostitute themselves for bare necessities? These silent victims, camouflaged by societal shame, hardly ever have their day in court. Certainly, as a long-standing member of the United Nations, we have signed on to a plethora of treaties, and declarations, including those related to our serious obligations related to the rights and protections of our children.  Very sad to say, however, we are made more famous for our words and promises rather than any necessary and concrete action. We fall so dreadfully short that scathing reports from international bodies continue to be leveled against us, on many human rights fronts, including our callous indifference to women and children in particular. For years now, I have personally beseeched the Ministry of Social Services to follow our commitment to the U.N. and appoint an Advocacy Expert for Children’s affairs.

Why can’t we do something about this societal plague? Simple indifference! Why doesn’t our government do something more about this obvious poverty which drives our children to start on a path of crime that leads them to jail and probable death before the tender age of twenty? Lack of money, we hear, and the resulting lack of job and program opportunities to enhance the quality of life for our young. 

But then, what do we know? Right at this moment, you can bet, and I’ve been reliably informed,  there sit billions of Bahamian dollars in Bahamian banks! Not even counting what is stashed abroad. Now there has to be a colossal degree of profiteering going on at the corporate levels and elsewhere. Remember the small percentage of those who own the majority of wealth in the nation? This same wealth has been accumulated, by and large, through the sweat and blood of the poor, our black brothers and sisters, and destitute whites, whose children are now financially impoverished and dispossessed. 

Pray tell me the percentage of poor blacks or destitute whites who own a piece of our national real estate.  They possess no wealth which is in the chaos that could be ordered! I have advocated for years, in fact since 1977, that every Bahamian citizen should own a piece of our country. Thousands possess none and we expect them to feel at home. 

Thousands of our young are unemployed and many little children, both in Nassau and Grand Bahama, still trek to the public dumps, not in search of scrap metal, but more basic needs for survival. Without an equitable system of taxation, the government cannot get at privileged and enormous deposits. They sit stagnant (except for the amassing of daily interest), and so the frightening inequities continue. But there must come a day and a way to cause, motivate, or even coerce the possessors of these inordinate riches to free up some of their wealth for the creation of jobs and meaningful programs for the youth of this nation. During the recent pandemic and Dorian, how many freed up some of their riches to enable our children to adequately continue their education? And now we see the devastating results!

God destined the earth and all it contains for all men and all peoples so that all created things would be shared fairly by all mankind under the guidance of justice tempered by charity. In our use of things, we are to regard the external goods we legitimately own not merely as exclusive to ourselves but common to others also, in the sense that they can benefit others as well as ourselves. There is then the universal destination of earthly goods and every man has the right to possess a sufficient amount for himself and his family.

There is a simple, direct, and immediate way to eradicate poverty in this nation, where more than forty percent now exist below the poverty line. National Insurance, is not a contribution; it is a tax, for it is legally established to be taken out of salaries. Presently, the destitute poor man or woman pays the same percentage as the super-rich and multi-millionaire. This system has to change, keeping it under the NIB, but establishing it based upon the income of each individual, where the rich will be taxed on their enormous income, and the poor on their little. There has to be a sliding scale.

If we continue on the present course, poverty, in its deepest and most abject state, will be the heritage of our future generation unless we as adults in this nation assure every one of our young men and women meaningful occupation as they exit the halls of our high schools. Without this assurance, we have failed them miserably and have set the stage for future, certain, and guaranteed criminal activity. 

Just imagine the social, psychological, and even spiritual frustration in the hearts and minds of the thousands of graduates, who entered upon the course of dire uncertainty this coming month of June. Devoid of financial opportunities for further education and with the scarcity of jobs, they can so quickly lose that pristine grace of youthful enthusiasm and motivation as they tread the beat of the unemployed and the dispossessed.

Certainly, our children have dreams; however, as Charles Dickens would say: “ Dreams are  bright creatures of poem and legend, who sport on earth in the night season, and melt away in the first beam of the sun.” But we as a nation have an obligation to assist them in the realization of those dreams, as he concludes: “A dream, all a dream, that ends in nothing and leaves the sleeper where he lay down, but I wish you to know that you inspired it.” Will July 2023 bring the dawning of and new and glorious Bahamaland!?

We need to be eternally mindful of the poignant warning given by Marian Edelman when she writes: “ Inattention to children by society poses a greater threat to our society, harmony, and productivity than any external enemy.” We are presently smack in the midst of this reality with the daily birthing of more and more internal enemies of the state. Yes, our children are the ‘darlings’ of the nation. But they can so easily become demons unless they are properly nurtured and cared for. Call them ‘darlings’ only when we have done everything in our power to assure that every child in our land becomes an esteemed, proud, loved, cherished, and cared-for individual. 

When we have made certain he/she is securely set on the path of self-esteem, self-worth, and productivity, then and only then, claim them as our darlings. It is nothing short of criminal to believe that our responsibility for our children ends at the age of sixteen!

But this is not just the sitting Government’s call to action. It is essentially a national call to wage a “Holy War” on all those areas in society where the Spirit of Christ is encumbered by the strangling hold of abuse, neglect, and abandonment of our children, the callused indifference to the mentally ill, the old, the physically handicapped, the imprisoned, the afflicted, the AIDS sufferers, the abused women, the castigation and hatred of others with legitimate alternate lifestyles; and all the other ills already spelled out which breed violence, teenage pregnancies, and poverty among our youth.

It may be, at the moment, that poverty is the inevitable result of the free market economy. However, in a small nation like ours, blessed with so many favors, and potentially productive, we may be able, nevertheless, to provide a quality life for all our citizens second to none in this hemisphere. God did create all men and women equal and we would hope that someday we could live in an equitably just and fair world. 

Jesus may not have directly proposed the eradication of poverty, stating, in fact, that the poor will always have it with us. But certainly these same poor were the ones dearest to his heart. We work then with the God who “raises the poor from the dust and lifts up the needy from the dunghill.”  Have you ever wondered how they got there? Thus, by caring for and feeding them, we are in perfect obedience to the will of God that all men and all women deserve to live a dignified, joyful, and fulfilling life. And I end with this powerful admonition of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who witnesses daily the scourge of absolute poverty in his country:

“A church that is in solidarity with the poor can never be a wealthy church. It must sell all, in a sense, to follow the Master. It must use its wealth and resources for the sake of the least of Christ’s brethren.”

And who is the church? We are the church! Suffer the little children to come to me for of such is the kingdom of heaven. 

Or will we continue setting them on a path of suffering and want, where no tender and caring hands reach out to them and lead them into the Arms of Jesus?