Parenting in Jamaica
According to UNICEF's 2000 Situation Assessment and Analysis of Jamaican Children and their Families, most Jamaican children are born while their parents are in a common-law or "visiting" relationship, but nearly half of these relationships have ended by the time child is five or six years old.
Despite this, the assessment indicates that about half of all children under the age of six live with their fathers and that four out of five fathers support their children financially. Almost 65 percent of children have both biological parents performing the chief parenting role - even if both parents do not live in the same household.
Many single parent households face specific social and economic challenges for both the parent and the children. About 45 percent of all Jamaican households are female-headed. Female-headed households are larger than the national average, and larger than those headed by males. Female-headed housheolds, according to 2002 data from the Planning Institute of Jamaica, also have a larger number of children and adult females, but have a lower per capita consumption than those headed by males.
Parents' heavy reliance on corporal punishment as a form of "discipline" and poor communication between parents and children are also major challenges to effective parenting. A 2004 paper on "Disciplinary Practices Among Jamaican Parents of Six Year Olds" (Samms-Vaughn, Williams and Brown ) reveals that 46 percent of parents use physical assault (including spanking, beating, pinching and shaking) as method of "discpline." About 25 percent use psychological methods including threatening to hit, undressing to underwear scolding, shouting and spiting.
High rates of migration, which are partially in response to declining social and economic prospects, have contributed to the weakening of the family and community support structures. Many parents leave the island in order to seek employment overseas. Often children are left with inadequate guidance and protection.
The so-called "barrel children" phenomenon, where children are left without adult supervision and care and their only support is shipping barrels of food, clothing and other material items sent by parents or guardians living overses, is widely recognised as a major problem in Jamaica.
HIV/AIDS is also a threat to parenting. It was estimated in 2003 that over 5000 children had lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS. Some 10,000-20,000 children were estimated to have been made vulnerable by the disease. Having parents who are ill may place the burden of care for households on older children, who are forced to take on adult responsibilities. Children and their parents may also suffer from stigma and discrimination from the community and the wider society.
Early pregnancies among adolescents are also cause for concern as often these young parents are unprepared for the responsibilities of parenting. The UN Theme Group and Partners on HIV/AIDS "Towards an Integrated Plan of Action 2000-2001" attributed the lack of parenting skills to teenage pregnancies and early fatherhood, which lead to a cycle of unskilled parents and socially and emotionally dysfunctional children.