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Study: Inner-city children dangerously caught in border divisions

Friday, February 19, 2010    

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KINGSTON (Panos) -- Children living in inner-city communities such as Greenwich-Lyndhurst in Kingston face serious challenges as their education and social development are greatly impeded by border divisions and gang feuds.

According to a recent study by UNIFEM and the Women's Resource and Outreach Centre (WROC), children from as early as three years old are involved in gun-running, enforcing border rules and running gangs in schools.

One of the 50 participants in the study spoke of children being "brought under the fold" from an early age. The person said that children as young as three years old are asked to fetch the guns. By age eight they are cleaning and assembling guns. By age 11 some are actively involved in enforcing the border rules and running parallel gangs in schools.

The study was conducted between March to December 2009 to find out about the gender implications of borders and boundaries inside the Lyndhurst and Greenwich Park communities in Kingston. WROC held a public consultation in January 2010 and presented the findings.

It highlighted how seriously children's development was affected in bordered communities. In one focus group discussion, a woman mentioned a three-year war in one section of the community. For those three years the children who lived within those borders could not attend school, and this caused a gap in their education. She said that the don for that community later tried to get help from politicians and business people to help the affected children to "bridge the gap".

Youth without hope?

From a very young age many children living in bordered communities lose their family members to violence. The effect is that they become very "angry, aggressive and resolute to avenge for these deaths". These children are the ones who go out on killing missions without much coaching. They are often not open to reason.

Many youth living in bordered communities place no value on life. According to one participant in the study, "many youth today do not expect to live beyond 22 years old. To be 25 years old in the community is to be considered an 'elder'. This low life expectancy makes them more reckless with their own life and willing to take more risks. This contributes to the increase in killing of women, children and the elderly, practices which used to be prohibited by the dons.

Girls, in particular are also vulnerable to early sexual initiation. They are often used by dons for sexual favours as soon as "them touch them prime (in adolescence)". To deal with this problem, one young woman said that some mothers "just ship them (the girls) out of the community and report them missing".

Community 'runnings'

In presenting the findings, Violet Sutherland, WROC gender consultant and researcher, said that among the most terrifying issues to emerge from the study was the fact that women, children and even the elderly often die in their own homes and on the streets in their communities, because they or someone connected to them have broken the border and boundary rules, set by "dons" or gang leaders.

The 50 participants in the study described life in bordered communities as being about entrapment, inconvenience, intimidation, loss of opportunities to develop themselves and death. This is a way of life inside bordered communities.

The borders and boundaries in question are, according to the study, physical barriers or invisible lines or points of separation in communities which are, "for the monitoring of persons going to and fro in these areas".

In bordered communities there are rules and everyone seems to know them. The study quoted a boy of about 11 years old who explained that, "we have two sides of the community that are against each other. Borders separate them... so that people no go over the enemy side".

A 67-year-old woman was asked what she thought was the purpose of these borders to which she simply said, "No invaders. If you cross deh so (pointing to an invisible line in the road) yuh dead, just dead".

"It is a way of showing power and donship. The rule governing same is death," said another woman.

This rule received some confirmation from two ex-convicts who were interviewed separately. "War going on, automatically give you boundaries. If you cross it you choose death. All dog know say him must not cross it," one of them said.

Most of the persons interviewed for the study agreed that the borders and boundaries, "do not have much to do with politics, but more with gang leaders wanting to show power and control because of access to guns, drugs money and extortionist activities".

The study also revealed some level of ambivalence about the borders and boundaries. Ninety-five per cent of persons interviewed saw borders and boundaries as a method of protecting their community. However, a large portion of that number also admitted that the borders curtail their freedom of movement, and are a violation of their basic human rights.

Men are usually the ones who create borders and boundaries to establish their sphere of control. Many of these borders are created by very young men. One participant in the study said that "no big man not involved in the creation of borders and boundaries... sometimes is 15 year olds... some of who are illiterate!"

One woman interviewed said tha, it was not that law-abiding citizens uphold the practice of borders and boundaries, "but you have to accept it in order to survive in the inner city."

Solutions

Participants in the study cited many causes for the border problems, and high on the list were youth illiteracy and unemployment. One man who participated in the study was quoted as saying, "there is nothing more lethal than a youth without hope... memba me tell you dat!"

During the discussion some persons agreed that illiteracy and unemployment were the issues to be dealt with before any solutions could be found.

Hilary Nicholson of Women's Media Watch pointed out that the borders and boundaries in today's communities are akin to the system used in the old slavery days to isolate and control people. But unlike the slaves of time past, people now have the benefit of modern communication tools. People no longer need to feel isolated and controlled in this way, Nicholson says.

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