Bad influences
Poll cites community violence, corporal punishment as impacting children's behaviour

More than 90 per cent of young people polled by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) say they do not believe enough is being done to guide Jamaican children on how to resolve disputes without resorting to violence.

At the same time, corporal punishment and community conflicts were identified as the major contributors to children becoming violent.

The U-Report poll, conducted by UNICEF, in association with the Jamaica Observer to mark Child Month 2023, surveyed 216 young people islandwide, the majority of them teenagers and adolescents.

When asked if they thought enough was being done to show Jamaican children how to resolve disputes without resorting to violence, 92 per cent of respondents said 'no', while eight per cent said 'yes'.

In response to the query as to what form of violence inflicted upon children most contributes to them becoming violent, 39 per cent of respondents said corporal punishment and an equal percentage of them pointed to community violence. Meanwhile, 15 per cent identified school violence and seven per cent said abuse on social media.

According to one St James youth, violence is, unfortunately, becoming a norm in the Jamaican society and has affected ways in which children socialise with their peers at school and in their communities.

The respondent also stated that these children have also been exposed to violent activities by the people who should be setting better examples in the homes.

"The violence young people witness on a daily basis is absurd. When it's not in the media or music, it is in everyday life. We can't be surprised that young people are being influenced by it when our culture perpetuates a violent culture. While the Government and legislators have a lot of work to do, we as a people should also hold ourselves accountable and try to create a culture shift so that we can have successive generations of humans who are good citizens and leaders," the respondent said.

A youngster in Kingston and St Andrew argued, "Children are surrounded by violence from an early age and, on top of that, are being abused by parents who consider it discipline. Because of this, children grow up with the idea that you have to get physical to get what you want from others."

Additionally, the issue of sexual abuse in the home and community as one of the many ways in which children are being affected by violence was highlighted.

One respondent argued that those forms of violence were continuing to affect the development of youth across the country.

"The exposure to violence places an immense burden on the shoulders of Jamaican youth, hindering their development and potential. The consequences are evident in increased levels of trauma, fear, poor mental health, educational disruptions, and limited opportunities for growth," he said.

Another youngster said that an unstable home life not only affects them emotionally, but had forced a lot of Jamaican youth into the hands of gangs that take advantage of their need for love and belonging. He said that while that is not a new phenomenon, more attention should be placed on curbing this action as it is a cause for concern across the island.

"I think that when children and youth come from unstable households they may seek some sort of acceptance or stability that may come in the form of gangs which may be violent. I believe youth and kids need a sense of belonging, as humans are social beings and they will go where they are accepted — whether positive or negative," the young man said.

"I also think children replicate what they observe around them and so they may act violently, if that's what they know, or they may act violently because they do not know other ways to express their emotions. Violence breeds violence, and if the root causes are not challenged we'll be stuck in an unending cycle."

Further driving the point that violence in the home contributes to issues affecting youngsters, a Clarendon youth referenced data suggesting that a lot of young Jamaicans are involved in criminal activities.

"It's so sad to see that the majority of gunmen are youngsters ranging from 15 years old to 26 years old. It's like everybody wants to be a 'bad man' and make a lot of 'duppy'. Most of these young men were the children who have seen crimes happening in their communities daily, and whilst few were inspired to flee, the others were inspired to be just like those gunmen," she said.

Notwithstanding that, a St James youth believes that the implementation of more initiatives targeting youth and their parents can aid in continuing the country's fight against violence among children. That, he said, was "crucial" in delaying moral decay across the island.

"Jamaica, like many other countries, grapples with the significant impact of violence on its youth. The effects of violence can be far-reaching, affecting the physical, emotional, and psychological well-being of young people. Understanding and addressing this issue is crucial to ensuring a brighter future for Jamaican youth. By implementing comprehensive strategies and investing in preventive measures we can work towards creating safer environments and empowering our young generation," he said.


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