Mr. President, Allow me to express my sincere appreciation for this opportunity to engage in discussion on this matter that I believe to be fundamental to the course we chart in our quest for developed nation status by 2030. This is a matter, sir where it is my Hope that we can through this process we can arrive at some degree of consensus, because all our aspirations for this our beloved country are hinged to our ability to resuscitate this vital cell of our national construct. Some of the main roles of the family have been identified as sexual, reproductive, economic, educational and the source of societal stability and survival. Mr. President, as a matter of record our demographical profile According to World Bank 2007 report on Jamaica’s  Population: 2,780,132 Birth rate: 20.44 births/1,000 population Death rate: 6.59 deaths/1,000 population Sex ratio: 0.978 male(s)/female.

Mr. President,The United Nations General Assembly, in its resolution 47/237 of 20 September 1993, proclaimed that 15 May of every year shall be observed as the International Day of Families . On May 15th 2006 the United Nations observers the International Day of Families, the theme “Changing Families: Challenges and Opportunities” this theme seems to be highly relevant especially in the context of new and developing states such as Jamaica. Over thirteen years since the United Nations resolution 47/237 the Jamaican society seems beset by social breakdown due largely to the breakdown of the family unit. As Jamaica seeks to find a path to sustainable development the need to reify a solid social structure and to reintroduce discipline to the society, it becomes evident that what is required is a deeper look into the most basic unit of social creation, the family.

The importance of this unit to social creation and social development cannot be understated and since the early times of intellectual emanation the family has had pride of place in society.

The Family: Key to Sustainable Development

Secondly Mr. President,Khalid Malik UNDP Resident Representative,United Nations in China, at a summit in the Hainan Province December 2004, highlighted the fact that the family and sustainable development were twinned. He opined at that summit that “The family is the most basic component of our society and the world; it embodies our dearest feelings for human life and experience. Sustainable development is about taking a holistic view, bringing in economic, social and environmental aspects. The link between the two concepts is clear, though complex. Without access to jobs and a cleaner environment, families are unable to prosper. Equally, without conditions that nurture and safeguard their rights, families cannot thrive and this in turn holds back economic and social progress. Functioning families are crucial to social cohesion and stability.”

After all as often pointed out the surest way of achieving sustainable development is through the development of human capital. It is the families that will provide us with this resource and their ability to impart proper values to their offspring that will dictate attitude towards education, work and ultimately productivity.

Definitions and Structures of the Family

The family is seen as:”A group of related kin, linked by blood relationships and/or by marriage (or marriage-like) relationships or by adoption, usually occupying a common household and usually characterized by relations of economic cooperation and solidarity” (McKenzie 1993, adapted from Bredemeier and Stephenson 1962). This definition is very broad Mr. President but to me best encapsulates what the Jamaican family has emerged to be over time. Traditionally, the Jamaican family has been a very fluid structure. The Jamaican family does not fit into any of the usual sociological explanations, in that, the family unit itself cannot be restricted to the traditional parameters. There exists several forms, from large extended family, to nuclear, single parent and sibling households. The Jamaican situation is much more complicated that standard family types, there is a proliferation of female headed single parent households, with women from different generations running homes (grandmothers, mothers, nieces and sisters).

In terms of structures Mr. President,While the Nuclear family is still viewed as ideal – a mother and father sharing common residence, cooperating economically, sexually cohabiting, having offspring (Murdock) – this is not the form of family with is most evident in Jamaican society. As a matter of fact, it is the least common of the differing family forms. This structure is also income sensitive, as it fines greatest prevalence in the upper income quintiles of our society. Edith Clarke (1957) made an early link between family structure and economy situation. Highlighting “that the greater the economic well being of an area the higher the percentage of marriages.

Secondly Mr. President is the Common Law (Consensual union). The common law unit is one in which an adult male and female live with or without their offspring, the frequency of this unit in the Jamaican context had led to legislation being developed to protect the children and partners of these relationships. Often time there seems to be a measure of security in the lack of commitment but in fact as highlighted by Clarke economic factors play a much greater role in the occurrence of this family type – notwithstanding the fact that this is a lower class phenomenon.

Thirdly Visiting relationships. This is an extension of the common-law structure, but is differentiated by the fact that the partners do not cohabit. In many cases it involves dependent children living with the mother while the father lives elsewhere sometimes with another woman, but has conjugal relations with the mother and plays a supporting role in the economic sustenance of the family. the National Aids Committee (2002) report “most Jamaican children are born while their parents are in a common-law relationship or “visiting union”. However, almost half of these relationships dissolve by the time the child is 5 or 6 years old.” This means that a significant percentage of our nation’s children do not have consistent adult role models and this is especially true for males.

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