PRIME Minister Andrew Holness says that the Government will be focusing on legislation to deal with the high level of violence in the country, especially against women and children.
He told the House of Representatives yesterday that the Government has put in place several commissions which have been studying the cause and effect of the high level of violence in the country, and their reports will be used to inform the direction that will be taken to create legislation to control the level of violence.
But, in the meantime, Holness will be pushing for legislation to ban corporal punishment as a tool for raising children.
“The society has to be clear that we have to speak with one voice that all forms of violence must be repudiated,” he said in a statement reacting to the news Monday of the death of four-year-old Nashawn Brown, who was allegedly beaten to death by his stepfather in Willowdene, St Catherine.
The boy's 24-year-old stepfather, Shaun Dee Benett, was formally charged yesterday with unlawful wounding, assault occasioning actual bodily harm, cruelty to a child, and child abuse. Police sources have indicated that Bennett could also face murder charges.
He is scheduled to appear in the St Catherine Parish Court on July 27.
According to Prime Minister Holness, “It is important for us as a nation to have a conversation, an open and honest conversation about the effects of corporal punishment.”
He added: “We, as a society, must ban corporal punishment. Our research shows that boys who are severely beaten by their mothers gravitate to a life of crime, and if you ask most Jamaicans what concerns them today, they will point to the increase in violence in the society.”
He said Jamaica and other Caribbean countries are among those with the highest corporal punishment rates in the world, and are also among the countries with the highest homicide rates in the world.
“If we are to have a society free of violence, we must stop corporal punishment,” the prime minister insisted.
He said that the country continued to be horrified by the reports of violence “and downright cruel acts being meted out to children which should not be tolerated.
“In the same way we have addressed and condemned the other forms of violence in this House, we must unequivocally, loudly and resolutely condemn violence against our children,” he said.
Responding to the statement, Opposition Leader Mark Golding, however, said that he was not sure whether banning capital punishment by criminalising the act would be accepted across the country.
“If that would be accepted across the nation, I don't know. But, I think that more importantly what is needed is a public education and general dissemination of a different set of values; a different approach to violence, especially with vulnerable citizens included,” he stated.
He said that, while laws have a role to play and are “the easiest thing to draw for”, in reality changing behaviour takes more than just laws.
“That's why many of our laws are not enforced, and are on the books, sterile and bereft of any impact,” the Opposition leader stated.
He said that while the prime minister's definition of the violence as a sickness or an illness was an apt description of the situation, “for a four-year-old boy to be killed allegedly because he is eating too slowly, by somebody in his domestic setting, is really unbelievable”.
“It sickens many of us who regard violence as being at the heart of the problems in our society, but want a more strategically sound approach to handling the issues that have caused the anger. It requires re-education of the nation and a reculturalisation of the nation,” Golding said.
“Banning corporal punishment would be a symbolic step, and I think that is the trend worldwide. Spare the rod and spoil the child is still believed to be a sound precept in many homes. But I don't know whether banning it in the form of criminalising it and parents face criminal sanctions if they slap their children, if that would be accepted across the nation,” he said.
Opposition Member of Parliment Mikael Phillips noted that, with the advent of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the pressures on many individuals, including children, could have an overall effect which could lead to mental illness.
He said that, for example, students who have not attended school for a protracted length of time might need mental check-ups. He also urged that the Government make an urgent move to get mental health practitioners to work in the health centres across the country, to help deal with these occurrences.
“I think that a deeper, in-depth look needs to be taken to find out what is feeding domestic violence in this country,” Phillips said.
Children's Advocate Diahann Gordon-Harrison, in condemning the attack on Brown, on Monday reiterated the need for Jamaicans exploring alternative methods of disciplining children.
“It brings back to the table the level of frustration some parents apparently feel in their personal spaces with all the pressures that come with parenting,” she said.
— Additional reporting by Jason Cross