What ails thee Belize? Is it a matter of moral poverty?

by Hilaire Bennett


Journalists have been reporting on the damaging impact, the useless violence in the streets of the “old capital” on the Belizean society.

One recent editorial identified the “root cause of crime as today’s criminals being bred in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods”.

It identifies poverty  and joblessness as the causes crime.

Some local writers advocate for more money to be allocated to social programmes and for more government involvement in the down-town communities of this country. One writer even blamed “corruption” as the root cause of poverty, crime and  other social ills.

All these suggestions hold grains of truth. But it is important to bear in mind that poverty and joblessness have always been with us here in Belize, from colonial times.

Furthermore there has been no conclusive evidence from research to show that providing more opportunities in the poorer neighborhoods would make a difference in reducing  violent crime.

One writer  referred to a new theory from the American Journal of Psychiatry which suggests that the root cause of crime may be biological and not social.

The theory suggests that some people may be born with brain deficiencies which make them prone to violence.

Recently experts from the medical profession expressed a theory that the brains of children may degenerate between birth and three years because some of the many millions of nerve endings may not get linked up, or do not combine suitably.

The result is that parts of the brain become deficient, resulting in various kinds of earning disorders reflected in slow learning skills.

Is it possible that tendencies to violence may start then? These deficiencies are said to be brought about because of insufficient nutrition, brought about by  poverty.

Many children who are nourished physically and emotionally, although raised in  socioeconomically poor families, grow up to be educated, responsible persons. But it is from within the environment of moral poverty that violent offenders are moulded.

Criminogenic environments are placed where the negative forces are more numerous than those forces that create decent, law-abiding citizens. These become the habitations of inner-city children growing up surrounded by adults and older youth who are themselves delinquent, will undoubtedly influence their character of these children negatively. Often times it is the adults who draw the children into crime. These environments are pernicious to the moral growth and development of children.

Moral poverty has been defined as the poverty of being without loving, capable and responsible adults who teach the young right from wrong. Moral poverty  is being without parents or other authority who can show the child how to feel joy at other people’s joy, pain at other people’s pain, satisfaction when one does right, remorse when one does wrong.

The absence of people who teach morality by their own everyday example and who insist that children follow their example contributes to moral poverty.

The old African adage: “It takes a village to raise a child” is very relevant to the situation in  today’s Belize.

Forty to fifty years ago it was commonplace to see a neighbor chastising a child in giving guidance, steering the child in the right direction.

At that time there existed the fortification of morality. Parents had control over their children and received help from neighbors – the village.

The underlying cause of our moral deprivation has been  the crumbling of our primary social institutions – the  family, the school,  the church, the honest politician and others – at a time when they are needed to be towers of socializing strength.

Schools in Belize  have done a lot to improve education, but the curriculum is skewed towards  academic skills or vocational skills, preparing students for the working world.

Character formation and moral education should be re-instituted in our school curriculum to develop good manners in students. Teachers also need to be suitably trained.

“Manners” wrote Samuel Burke two centuries ago, “are  more important than laws. Upon them, in a great measure, the laws depend.

The law touches us, but here and there, and now and then.”

Churches came into this country as missionaries, with the strong purpose to Christianize the citizenry. But they have given up pastoral supervision and also socialized their flocks.

The traditional churches have allowed their missionary zeal to cool, and have become passive, to the point of negligence.

Nowadays religious groups come to Belize looking for landscaped lands with lakes and fruit trees rather than concern for the order of the day and a mission to improve society.

There is an urgent need to return to the original concept of the missionary spirit to move religious leaders into the down-trodden communities and recovery their spiritual souls.

Alongside this initiative  there must also be secular missionaries who will work with the churches, youth organizations, NGO’s and business people- not on a nine-to-five basis, but around the clock with no weekends off.

The habitual, violent criminals that are emerging in the “Jewel” will not yield to short-term, superficial socializing programmes once they have acquired the criminal mind-set.

Violence can be curbed. Children’s lives can be spared, but only if we are willing to devote the time, the energy and the personal economic resources to make it happen.

The government, through its police department by increasing the numbers of police officers and  in undertaking  various measures with help from its partners at home and abroad can do more to improve its capacity to enforce the law and protect citizens from the new breed of predators.

The prison, which has been privatized in its management, has been undertaking measures to ensure that prisoners are constrained as well as rehabilitated.

However incidents, of corrupt behavior by politicians, police and public officers have  a negative impact on the fight against crime

I must warn that the war will be lost unless the principles of representative democracy are honoured and enforced.

This means that government and the justice system must give the people what they are entitled to. But it also means that the citizens must move up to do more for themselves.

It is hoped that this article, written in all humility, will help to point out where we are as a Belizean society and help us to figure out where we can go in the matter of revitalizing our society. I must warn that the war will be lost unless the principles of representative democracy honoured

Eventually this means that government and the justice system must give the people what they demand. But it also means that the citizens must move up to do more for themselves.

It is hoped that a reassessment of where we are and where we can go in the matter of revitalizing the three main character-forming institutions will begin with the reading of this article.

Comments are closed.