SHATTERED DREAMS
Predators, criminals, preying on Jamaica’s children with 260 murdered and 2,035 raped in the past seven years
Mayor of Kingston Delroy Williams (right) watches as Youth Mayor Reajean Bennett lays a wreath at the Secret Gardens Monument in downtown Kingston for children who have lost their lives in Jamaica, at the start of Child Month 2022. (Photo: Karl Mclarty)

Just over 260 Jamaicans between the ages of one and 17 were murdered across the island between 2015 and 2021, underscoring the grim reality facing the nation’s children.

Official police reports also show that 2,035 cases of the rape of children were recorded for the same seven-year period, while more than 600 children were left nursing gunshot wounds over that time.

For Children’s Advocate Diahann Gordon Harrison, the numbers underscore one of the major problems facing Jamaica where children are the victims of crime while some are the perpetrators of criminal acts.

Addressing a Jamaica Observer Press Club recently, Gordon Harrison pointed to western Jamaica where the police had reported that scores of children had been arrested in connection with violent crimes.

“Children are victims of very extreme forms of violence and it is violence of all sorts…we are seeing victims of extreme acts of corporal punishment still being an issue. I think it would be fair to say that gradually parenting has evolved…but we still have incidents of violence in the home which then morphs into a school setting,” said Gordon Harrison:

“We are still seeing, as well, predators who prey on children, so we are seeing the sexual violence, we are seeing children themselves with child-on-child violence,” added Gordon Harrison as she pointed to several reports of violent clashes among students since the resumption of face-to-face classes in Jamaica months ago.

Gordon Harrison was echoing the claims of international child protection consultant at the United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Jamaica Ytske Van Winden who used the Jamaica Observer Press Club to underscore that Jamaica has a huge problem when it comes to violence and crime.

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“Jamaica holds an historic record for homicide rates globally. It was always among the top five countries in the world when it comes to homicide rates. So there was already a major issue and I think that the COVID-19 pandemic has even worsened the situation,” said Van Winden as she noted that in 2021 Jamaica recorded 1,463 murders and 1,258 shootings.

“For a small nation, that is immense, and we have many child victims. For us at UNICEF, that is a top priority. We are the United Nations agency mandated to drive positive change for children, so protecting children from violence, abuse, exploitation, and neglect is top on our list,” she said.

Van Winden pointed out that tackling the issue of violence is what UNICEF’s current programme cycle in Jamaica is about.

“So we tackle it in the home, we address it in the communities…in schools as well. We have very structured programmes. There are many initiatives ongoing in the country and we are guided by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child,” declared Van Winden.

She noted that in 2019 Jamaica signed the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children under which countries and international organisations decided that they need to work to deal with this problem.

“Jamaica was one of the first countries to say, ‘We are on board. We are going to adopt that package and we are going to design a national plan of action that is going to be structured around that’,” said Van Winden,

From that decision was born the revised National Plan of Action for an Integrated Response to Children and Violence (NPACV)

The goal of the NPACV is to create and maintain a protective environment supportive of, and responsive to, the issues of children and violence.

Its main objectives are to decrease the exposure of children to violence and to reduce the impact of violence on children through an integrated approach to prevention, control, monitoring and intervention so that children may preserve their rights and grow to be productive citizens of Jamaica.

Van Widen stressed that violence against children is created by multiple factors that need to be addressed.

“If we only had a silver bullet to address violence, but we don’t,” declared Van Winden.

“What we have in Jamaica is a very robust, solid plan to address violence against children, and that is the NPACV. That’s a joint effort of 20 governmental and civil society organisations who put their heads together and designed this plan. That provides a framework with evidence-based actions that can reduce violence against children related to changing norms and policies,” added Van Winden.

She argued that everything that Jamaica needs to do to reduce violence against children is already in the NPACV.

“So the media is part of our solution too, because we need you to remind the Government to put it into action. We have the plan, we know what needs to be done, we know what works. We have the evidence, because this has been tested in Jamaica, in the region and across the globe,” declared Van Winden.

BY ARTHUR HALL Editor-at-Large halla@jamaicaobserver.com

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