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VIOLENCE:

HOW DOES IT AFFECT OUR CHILDREN?


Craig Cole
st
College English 1 Year Student Writer

“C
hildren are the future” is a phrase that everyone seems to sing; but in
fact we should realize that children are the present and indeed presents
given to us by the Creator.

Jamaica is a nation plagued with an ever-increasing crime rate, which has been
attributed to a number of factors, some of which are:

• Economic Instability (including high unemployment)


• Destabilized family structure (including poor parenting)
• Decline in values and attitudes across society
• High level of illiteracy
• Drug culture
• Ineffectiveness of communication channels between the community and the
police/government.
• High availability of firearms and other weapons

Of all these reasons, the youth of the country seem to be the ones who suffer most
(Jones, 2003). The three factors usually highlighted are poverty, disruption of the
education process and the lack of proper parenting and influence in children’s lives.
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Jamaica places 3 on the international list of murders per capita (United Nations, 2003)
behind Columbia and South Africa. More than 76% of these heinous crimes take place
within the Kingston Metropolitan Area (KMA): the area comprising the capital city, its
suburbs and immediate rural communities; with a vast majority of both victims and
offenders being males between 15 and 44 years of age (Lemard & Hemenway, 2006).
The concentration of crime in the inner-city “ghetto” areas, which are at the lowest rung
of the socioeconomic ladder, suggests that poverty and crime are related and at times
directly proportional. In addition, the young age of the victims shows that children are
directly affected by the high crime rate both physically as murder victims, and also 1
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through the psychological and material influences of crime. Poverty is an important
factor contributing to crime in the KMA which acts also as a propellant to other issues,
such as poor education facilities, high levels of illiteracy and unemployment, low self-
esteem and weakened family capacities to socialize its young. Poverty marginalizes
children and increases their susceptibility to being victimized by social ills. According to
Schorr (1988)"Virtually all other risk factors that make rotten outcomes more likely are
also found disproportionately among poor children". In light of those arguments the
pervasive and frightening youth violence and criminality among Jamaican youth might
indeed result from the social disadvantage the poorest of society are forced to endure;
more affluent children have better all-around developmental outcomes and are rarely
perpetrators of violent crimes. According to Williams (2001, p. 16, citing Headley):
"Many crimes committed in Jamaica are responses to the material conditions inherent
to economic dispossession, severe inequality, and general hopelessness. Disconnected
youth who are powerless to change their bleak condition take advantage of the
'opportunities' afforded by street crimes. It is not ghetto or a violent subculture--or any
other internal 'pathology' that impels them. Rather, it is the need to survive to 'exist in a
society where survival is not assured by other, collective means.” (Smith & Ashiabi,
2007)

Violence disrupts education when the environment becomes tumultuous in a


community as it directly affects students’ attendance: schools are either closed or
children become so traumatized that they are too frightened to leave home. This has
greatly diminished the educational potential of these children as they are unable to
receive the prescribed amount of instruction for the school year. Regrettably, this can
also result in disruption of important examinations such as the Grade Six Achievement
Test (GSAT) and Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) exams. In 2005, students from the
Elletson Primary School had to be escorted by police to the Jessie Rippol Primary school
to sit the GSAT exams because of the upsurge of violence in their community (Francis,
2005). Students have also been displaced when families flee the community and so may
not sit the important exam because of registration irregularities (Jamaica Gleaner,
2005). The quality of teaching also suffers as fearful teachers become jittery and are
unable to instruct students well. These numerous factors which limit the education of
these children can affect them throughout life as it results in a vicious cycle where the
lack of education, making them unable to qualify for jobs, hinders their chance of social
mobility. Subsequently, the typical recourse is to resort to violence and crime to eke out
a living and earn respect, and the disruption they cause continue to negatively affect
students, completing the unforgiving cycle.

It can be argued that violence has been prevalent since the very inception of this
country as most of our conflict resolution has, and is still, been done via this means.
Nearly all of Jamaica’s national heroes are associated with the use of violence in
liberation struggles. This is where the psychological nature of violence sets in. As a
people we have been taught, directly and indirectly, that the most effective way to get
results is through violent means. Also, more emphasis is placed on instilling in children a 2
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fear of consequence rather than simple adherence to “that which is right”; a lifestyle
guided by principles and morals. A spinoff to this history of violence in conflict
resolution is that crime has evidently become glorified. It is evinced by many who
disregard the rights of others to achieve their own personal endeavors. To children
looking on it is seen as a better alternative to the hardships of life. In music even, the
statuses of “galist” and “gangster” are given to offenders of the country’s morals and to
those who choose a lifestyle of crime. Hence, the examples or characters that children
are more inclined to embrace as role models actually act adversely on them. In the
poem, “Children Live What They Learn” (1972); written by Dorothy Law Nolte PhD, the
message is resounded that the attitudes children portray are a result of how they are
impacted by the environment created by their guardians. “If children live with criticism,
they learn to condemn. If children live with hostility, they learn to fight… If children live
with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place to live.” Therefore, parents and
prospective role models should make it imperative that they set proper examples for
children; otherwise they will be much more likely to choose unbecoming lifestyles.

The anthropological imperative of humans is to care for their young regardless of


circumstance, yet much of the violence in our country is perpetuated by adults, the very
adults who should be taking care of our youth. This violence not only affects children
through gruesome murders and abuse, but inherently, its effects harm them and the
prospects of their future. It is crucial, therefore, that the issue of violence be discussed
and solutions formed, as our children need safety and assurance to continue to pursue
their dreams and become good leaders in the next era of our nation.

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B IBLIOGRAPHY

Francis, P. (2005, March 29). Students can now rest easy - GSAT is over. The Jamaica
Gleaner .

Jones, P. (2003). A Global Approach To Crime & Violence In Jamaica. Economic


Development Institute.

Lemard, G., & Hemenway, D. (2006). Violence in Jamaica: an analysis of homicides 1998-
2002. Injury Prevention (12), pp. 15-18.

Nolte, D. L. (1972). Children Live What they Learn.

Schorr, L. B. (1988). Within our reach: Breaking the cycle of disadvantage. New York:
Anchor.

Smith, D. E., & Ashiabi, G. S. (2007, December 22). Poverty and child outcomes: a focus
on Jamaican youth. Adolescence .

United Nations. (2003). United Nations Survey of Crime Trends and Operations of
Criminal Justice Systems, covering the period 1998 – 2000. Office on Drugs and Crime
Centre for International Crime Prevention.

Williams, L. (2001, September). "Anywhere yu be, yu not safe: Adolescence and Violence
in Jamaica." Final draft for UNICEF and UNFPA. Retrieved October 27, 2008, from
http://www.unicef.org/evaldatabase/files/JAM_2001_803.pdf

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