A student of Kingston Technical High looks at a photo of his school mate Michion Campbell during her funeral service in November 2022. Campbell was fatally stabbed during a dispute with one of her peers last September. (Photo: Joseph Wellington)

THE vast majority of respondents (71 per cent) in a just-conducted U-Report poll said they have been the victims of or witnessed violence by student gangsters in their school and they blame this mainly on the environment in which Jamaica's children are being raised.

In the U-Report poll, which was conducted by United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) in association with the Jamaica Observer to mark Child Month 2023, people were asked to say if they had witnessed gang violence perpetrated by students or outsiders during their time in school.

There were 189 respondents out of 193 polled, with those who said yes drawn mainly from Clarendon, Hanover, Kingston and St Andrew.

A 21-year-old female respondent expressed concern about young men's interest in glorifying criminal activities at a tender age.

"The saying, 'Children live what they learn,' is true. The older men in the communities who are involved in criminal activities are not setting examples for the children nor are they trying to be a change for the future generation to look up to, and this is why the youngsters bring the violence into the schools and elsewhere because it has been instilled in them from an earlier age," she continued.

She stressed that since a lot of youngsters grew up around crime, it is easier for them to engage in criminal activities.

"Their brothers, uncles, cousins, fathers, and friends are a part of it, so they think it's awesome to carry on the tradition. There is so much to life than just killing. We have a future to live for, we have a purpose to carry out. Don't throw away your lives by doing the crime and then go to live out the rest of your lives behind bar," she encouraged youngsters.

Another respondent charged that, "Our nation's children are becoming more victims of violence every day, whether in their school, community, or even in their home. Even though it is good to spoil not the child and spare not the rod, parents and caregivers sometimes take it too far, and due to this, children tend to be rebellious and resort to violent acts," said one female respondent who argued that "children are becoming more involved in crimes as a response to abuse they have experienced".

At the start of this month, official figures showed that nine children had been killed across the island since the start of this year. This is more than half the number of children murdered across Jamaica in 2022.

A further 15 children, 12 boys and three girls, were left nursing gunshot wounds between January 1 and May 6 this year.

Responding to the level of violence against children and by children, the poll respondents called for more sports programmes, better paying jobs, and more music which does not glorify violence to stem the blood-shedding culture.

"High-paying jobs, free and available education are two of the main things that will put crime and violence to a stop," a 21-year-old female said.

A 20-year-old female said music and apps that portray violence contribute to Jamaica's crime problem and need to be addressed.

"Violent music and these Telegram groups and WhatsApp groups showing murders and violence have a big impact on the young minds of Jamaican children who are like sponges soaking up what they see around them. Instead, these artistes should be promoting peace," she added.

A 19-year-old female called on the Government to implement more sports programmes to keep children out of violence.

Other respondents pointed to a number of factors that pushed students to perpetrate crime.

One 15-year-old student said: "Well I can say most kids always resolve to violence, especially younger ones are being influenced."

In January, Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced the formation of a collaboration with churches to launch a national campaign in schools to help change the gun culture in Jamaica.

He said the campaign is expected to heighten the awareness among youngsters about the dangers of getting involved in violent crimes and using illegal weapons.

BY BRITTNY HUTCHINSON Observer staff reporter hutchinsonb@jamaicaobserver.com

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