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Violence against children in Jamaica is commonplace.
There is a lot of talk about the recent cases of violence that have rocked the island.
I think that many people are shocked that the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated Jamaica COVID restrictions like the curfews and lockdowns didn’t curb the violence.
It seems that every day there is a report of a murdered woman in the country, most often, by her lover or ex-partner. And of course, the natural reaction is fear, anger, and pain.
Violence is not only affecting women, but it is also affecting our children which in turn creates a domino effect because violence against children is violence against society.
While we are all trying to understand the reasons behind such violence, we are also sceptical that we will see an end to the violence any time soon. There seems to be no effective Jamaican crime plan that can put the public at ease.
Types of Violence Against Children
Not so long ago, a grandmother and her grandchildren were murdered in their home.
The grandmother was 81 years old, and her grandchildren were 10 and 6 years old.
The murders sent shockwaves across the island. Similar to every other murder before them, the days passed, life went on, and the murders were replaced by even more brutal murders in the news and on the front pages of the newspapers.
Child violence statistics show that 85% of Jamaica’s children are subjected to violent discipline, including children as young as 18 months old.
Violence against children in Jamaica takes many forms. Besides violent discipline, children are exposed to violence through witnessing it in their homes and communities, as well as experiencing it at school.
Different types of child violence also include sexual abuse, psychological abuse, violence in music and indirect violence.
As recently as 25th April, 2021, it was reported that a four-year-old child became an orphan after the murder of both parents by gunmen in separate incidents twelve hours apart.
Even when our children are not witnesses to violence, it still impacts them. This is because the violence in our society is so insidious and permeates all aspects of our children’s lives.
Attitudes to Violence Against Children
Attitudes towards violence against children vary as violence can be categorized into two main groups: the types of child violence that are accepted culturally and the ones that are not.
For example, many parents feel they are within their rights to shout at their children if their children do not seem to be responding to the usual calm voice.
Or, they may feel they are allowed to beat their children as a form of disciplinary method because it will make them “grow up right.”
These types of child violence are not seen culturally by parents as violent acts towards children. This is because these types of child violence fall within a frame of correcting children’s behaviour. Some parents may believe that the means justifies the end if their children learn to behave through conditioning by violent discipline.
On the other hand, the majority of parents stand firmly against the sexual abuse of children. It is not a culturally accepted phenomenon, and rightly so.
In today’s Jamaica, this type of child violence is far less tolerated. Although still prevalent, more people, including victims, speak out against this type of violence.
However, attitudes towards violent discipline have largely remained the same.
Why haven’t attitudes towards violent discipline changed much in our society?
Why do so many parents, guardians, and even teachers still believe that hitting, shouting at, and humiliating children are the best forms of discipline?
Do they do it out of frustration? Or, is it a case of deeply entrenched beliefs about children and the role of adults as authority figures?
Why are we more outraged by a man beating his wife than the same man beating his child? Both should cause equal offence.
There is enough research that shows the harmful effects of physical punishment on children, yet many parents still practice this method as a form of discipline.
Belief and Culture: A Dangerous Combination for Violence Against Children
Physical abuse in the form of beating children is a fabric of our culture, a way of life that many accepted and passed down through generations.
Some parents will quote the famous “spare the rod and spoil the child” when asked why they beat their children—a quote which they source to the Bible.
The implication is that as long as it is in the Bible, it is sanctioned and should be actioned.
However, this exact quote is not in the Bible. The actual quote, Proverbs 13:24 NIV says, “Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.”
According to this scripture, if parents do not hit their children, they do not love them. For many of us, our childhood experiences featured beatings that were supposed to be for our “own good,” to “discipline” us, and to “show us right from wrong.”
Our parents genuinely believed they were doing the right thing. After all, our parents love us, “they were beaten too,” and “they turned out fine.”
The problem with this kind of belief and practice is that it recycles the trauma of violence into every new generation. Any type of child violence harms, it never heals.
The Effects of Violence on Children
We know the devastating consequences of sexual violence on children. We know how to protect our children from these acts, and we ensure that we are on the alert for them. So why don’t we treat other types of violence against children the same way?
Why are there no measures to reduce children’s exposure to other types of violence in their community and home?
The effects of violence on children also impact our society.
The effects of violence on children are well documented, including increased death, impairments in brain development, negative coping and high-risk behaviours, and high drop-out rates for school children. These, in turn, have severe consequences for society.
Children who experience violence have fewer chances of becoming successful adult participants in society and have an increased risk of developing non-communicable diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
According to WHO, child violence statistics show that boys represent 80% of the victims and perpetrators of violence, with homicide being one of the leading causes of death among this group.
Research has shown that childhood abuse increases the risk of adult criminal behaviour. Child victims of violence were more likely to be perpetrators of later violence towards peers and in romantic relationships.
It is evident that the violence perpetrated against children follows them into adult life and spills out into society. The consequences of this are seen in the levels of violence in our country.
Can it be as simple as ending violence against children to end the violence in our society?
It is time to end violence against children.