The Problem with Appropriation

Increasingly, there have been a number of attempts to address some of the problems that face Jamaica by the adoption of legislation from more developed countries. 

For instance, the 2009 Sexual Offences Act includes the implementation of a sex registry in a way that is fairly consistent across states in North America, Canada and the United Kingdom. The newest attempt to apply the legislation of other jurisdictions to our own comes from Senator Ruel Reid who suggests the implementation of a policy similar to that of China’s one-child policy. Putting aside the fact that both of these policies are riddled with countless human rights violations, what is more disturbing to me is this type of blanket appropriation of ‘otherness’.

Senator Ruel Reid one child policy one child per familyThere seems to be an automatic acceptance of everything that is not ours. So much so that we fail to consider whether or not said ideas/policies are actually effective or if they would work within our present cultural context. It is unfortunate that while we package our cultural uniqueness as a shiny bauble for the benefits of selling it to ‘foreign’, we refuse to make practical considerations about culture when it comes to considering our own progress, as if being culturally different is the problem itself.

Whether it be clutching onto archaic and inapplicable colonial laws that seek to maintain our connection to what some consider  ‘the good ole days’ or adopting “innovative” legislation that allows the government to appear as if they are ”keeping up with the Joneses”, it seems that the government is more intent on keeping up appearances than being effective.


Recently, the government revamped its Sexual Offences Act with, amongst other changes, the implementation of a sex registry. The sex registry is a relatively new practice in other countries. Never mind that across jurisdictions, it is seen to have limited effectiveness and in some cases increases risk to victims and their families ( It is argued elsewhere that the failure to consider the cultural context of Jamaica will exacerbate the downfalls of the registry (see links:; ).

However, this is not to say that we should not carefully examine what is done in other legislations as a way of moving forward. One must understood that culture is not something that is fixed. Persons that identify themselves by culture cannot be legally and politically empowered on that basis alone, since understandings of what a culture consists of can never be identical and will always evolve. This is an important source of critique for Jamaican legislation, since we often fall into the trap of holding on to our colonial past or what we were before we became ‘us’.

It is often said by Jamaicans that we would have been better off if we were still under colonial rule. In keeping with this idea of blindly accepting what we are not/no longer, or to many people, what we should have been, Jamaican legislation can also be extreme in its consideration of culture. As a result, it can sometimes trump the cultural experience over that of the human one. Our buggery laws and gender-specific sexual offences act are examples of legislation that is rooted in colonial law and is self-defeating as it is no longer applicable to the current cultural context; i.e. who we are now. These laws neglect the protection of and, in some instances, attack the privacy and freedom of all types of Jamaicans directly.

Within our country, exist Jamaican homosexuals who may/may not enjoy anal sex. There are also Jamaican heterosexuals who enjoy anal sex.  Both of these groups should have the right to do so consensually without harm to other parties. It is also a fact that women rape. So while we hold onto this colonial viewpoint on sexuality, we fail to protect young boys and men being victimized today because ‘that just does not happen’ (although the truth is, it always did…but under colonial rule, it didn’t matter). It still boggles my mind that we uphold the idea that a man cannot rape his wife (unless he knowingly has an STD or is legally separated), because as a ‘Christian’ country, we value the sanctity of marriage too much to care about one of the most damaging issues that women face universally (One statistic states that 14% of all women have been or will be raped by their spouse. In Jamaica, between 1997 and 2002, almost 1/3 of all reported murders were attributed to domestic violence…. I’m sure you can see the knock-on effect here).

By holding onto these laws, we blatantly ignore these truths and maintain colonial rule/stifle the progression of our culture (that discussion is for another blog). In addition, these types of legislation fail to respect humanity as well as its own endeavor: peaceful co-existence of all individuals within a society.  So before Senator Reid and others get excited about the appropriation of this one-child policy, he might consider a few things:

-Are we going to punish citizens for having a child when adequate resources are not dispensed to help to prevent them from not having children, i.e. family planning resources, free contraception and birth control?

-By implementing this kind of law are we putting women at risk of complications from illegal and unsafe abortions?


-Similar to China, will we be forcing individuals into situations where they have to give up for adoption, abandon or kill their children because they fear the consequences?

-In a society dominated by norms that subjugate and oppress women, are we inherently putting female babies at risk, since they are considered less important than male children? In addition, how will women be treated when they have a girl instead of a boy within the context of this limitation on childbearing?

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