Hunger, social neglect drives violence

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A hungry man is an angry man! Turns out the saying is true in a literal sense.

According to anthropologist, Dr Herbert Gayle, social neglect in the form of prolonged hunger in childhood, coupled with the neurobiological pressures perpetuates the violence in Jamaica.

Dr Gayle, who was speaking at the Nutrition and Parenting conference put on by the Jamaica Island Nutrition Network (JINN) held at the Mico University last Monday, revealed that over 50 per cent of murders in Jamaica are done by repeat killers who experienced prolonged hunger as children, among other types of social neglect.

“Over 80 per cent of the time with these repeat killers, the father was missing. And 80 per cent of the time, they don’t get along very well with their mothers. They are usually also exposed to torture, usually in the form of extreme and prolonged hunger.

“To date, I have worked with thousands of people of who have killed people. I have interviewed and documented 291. We have found that whenever a male who has killed a lot of people, the first thing is that you can almost literally see are his ribs.”

In a 2004 survey on living conditions in Jamaica, Gayle highlighted that 8.8 per cent of birth of five-year-old boys are underweight.

“That is malnutrition. For girls it is 3.3 per cent. Jamaica has become so violent that we are primally and neurobiologically wired to protect the one who can get pregnant to replace the velocity of our killing.

“If you find a society that pays abnormal attention to its replicator, the female, it means that that specific group of people feel under threat because of the velocity at which they are killing each other.

“For example, it means that if you live in a violent area with a 12 year-old son and a 21-year-old daughter, it is going to be the task of the son to stay on the corner every evening with a Glock 17 or 19 to make sure the daughter is safe. If the specie did not put neurobiological pressure on you to do that, we are all going to die. That boy can’t as be important to that society in a frame in which we are dying so rapidly.”

In a violent ecology like Jamaica, Gayle said that there are three things that will trigger social breakdown in the society. Dr Gayle explained that at the genetic level, females with two x chromosomes are better able to regulate behaviour and process emotion than males, who only have one x chromosome.

Because of this, Gayle explained that if males are ill-treated from childhood, they will be more easily triggered, especially if they are hungry.

“A boy in school who is hungry is more likely to be caught at the pipe filling his hands with water to cool the hydrochloric acid in his stomach. I have seen this in Haiti, in Jamaica, in Belize, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, you name it. I have seen this is my practice where the boy especially is driven to the pipe to cool his stomach with a handful of water.

“Take any wealthy zone in this country, it will have a belt of people who are massively below the poverty line and starving. There are families in Jamaica who are in this situation and we should be doing better.”

To further his point, Gayle illustrated the typical response of a Jamaican family facing economic hardship.

“Let me tell you what happens in a home when hunger strikes: First, the father is pressured to take on extra work because a half man will have to make space for full man. Second, the mother will take on a second job or seek work if she was unemployed.

“Thirdly, the boy stops going to school and starts to hustle, while the girl is kept in school because she is more likely to get pregnant if she is not in school. Then usually, one of the children is sent to live with another relative.”

By this stage, Gayle said the father is either absent or dead and the mother takes a second partner or becomes a part-time prostitute. At the very last stage, Gayle said a mother might even start to prostitute her own daughter.

“Whenever I am interviewing a mother and she asks me if I talk to her daughter, I know this is the final stage and the family has nothing else to survive on,” he said.

Further to that, Gayle explained that domestic violence in the household is another driver of the violence in Jamaica.

“And anywhere you have domestic violence, you are also going to have high levels of other types of violence. And what we call domestic violence is not necessarily the IPV’s (intimate partner violence), but it is when everybody in a home is at war. Because if you have a household where only one person is employed and you have 15 people eating your food, they are going to war. That is domestic violence.

“These are the things that drive the nightmare in this country because our inequality is too much. The policy framework to ensure that we can nurture our children is not yet examined fully,” said Dr Gayle.

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