Socio-economic insecurity

by Dr James Rose
Guyana Chronicle
May 21, 2001

SOCIAL commentators seeking to define the zeitgeist, the spirit of the times, often rely on the familiar Chinese saying, May you live in interesting times (which lamented those who had the misfortune of living in such an era) to describe the perils of the contemporary moment.

Those of us living in today's Guyana, at the beginning of the new millennium, could well be characterised instead as doomed to live in insecure times. Insecurity is gradually dominating the fabric of our lives, and has become the template of our daily lived experience and the nightmare vision of our dreams and expectations.

Quite recently, the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation expressed concerns about the predicament of the abandoned child and I was startled into serious thought of the plight of the socially challenged in today's insecure world. Science has greatly expanded the frontiers of the human experience and technology has taken that human experience on a quantum leap to the extent that a fat cat can now holiday in space while the issue of cloning human beings, not the capability to do so, but the ethics of so doing, is the subject of heated debate. But for all of this the depredations man wreaks on his fellow man is as grievous as ever.

One of the most profound statements I have heard, in quite a while, suggests that poverty is the greatest human rights abuse in the world today. The facts are stark enough. Despite the widespread opulence and the unprecedented high real income per capita in the world, millions of people die prematurely and abruptly from endemic poverty and hunger and a great many millions more lead lives of abject insecurity and persistent want. In the midst of plenty many remain without and the gap between those who have and those who do not have grows with each annual audit. The greatest sufferers of this ever increasing human right abuse are women and children the world over.

While all of this is quite obvious, many things are unclear about the characteristics, causation, consequences and possible remedies of poverty and deprivation the world over. A great deal of probing investigation - analytical and empirical - is needed as background to public policy and action for treating, alleviating and reducing, if not eradicating endemic poverty. In short, how does the state reduce the incidence of socio-economic penury and ensure minimal socio-economic entitlement? What forces a mother to abandon her young child? How does she explain her actions to her most inner self and then to significant others? Yet child abandonment is not a new social phenomenon. Far from it; it is as old as recorded history. Man has travelled far and has achieved much, but has so far failed to eradicate the chronic economic dissavings which characterise the poor and promote the violation of the basic human rights of the child.

In 1992 Professor G. Ken Danns conducted a situation analysis of `Children in Especially Difficult Circumstances in Guyana'. A subsequent study conducted in 1998 by Ms Barbara Thomas corroborated the findings of the earlier study and concluded that the stark reality was that these children were left unsupervised as mothers sought a livelihood outside the home. In addition, grandparents today were young and still coping with the burden of rearing their own children under harsh economic circumstances.

This is the situation whether it is in Brazil, Bogota, Guatemala, Honduras, Kenya, India, Sudan, the Philippines, Jamaica or Trinidad. For all our glowing achievements, the poor continue to rely for their survival chiefly on their own efforts deprived of, and remote from, any meaningful intervention from the state or the rest of society.

The ultimate reality is a very harsh world for the poor. So they organise to survive, in consonance with the norms of that stark reality. They protect themselves from hunger, by exploiting their limited available resources and in so doing making difficult and sometimes painful choices. They survive by hawking or begging or stealing, by endurance or industry or guile, by the resourcefulness of the woman or the courage of the child, by the ambition of the young or the patience of the old, by any and all of these means the poor survive in our brave new world. These are their inheritance amidst the harshness of the present. The heroism of their history is to be found not in the misdeeds and neglect of our statesmen, but in their personal daily struggles against the forces of nature, the indifference of social administrations and the cruelty of their fellow man.