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Global expert on violence urges Jamaican parliament to focus on children


KINGSTON, February 2008 – A leading authority on violence against children today pressed Parliamentarians to concentrate on the plight of children in Jamaica’s effort to break the cycle of violence affecting the country.

Professor Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, who directed the 2006 United Nations Secretary-General’s Study on Violence against Children, was given the rare opportunity to address Parliament on the invitation of the Speaker of the House through UNICEF. The initiative is in support of Peace Month (7 February-4 March), a major campaign led by the Violence Prevention Alliance.

Addressing Members of Parliament on Tuesday, Professor Pinheiro said the global study, which relied on inputs from a widely consultative process, revealed disturbing findings about the high prevalence of violence against children in every continent of the world.

Pointing to the situation in Jamaica, Professor Pinheiro highlighted statistics that reveal the extent to which violence affects Jamaican children, and noted significant gender distinctions in how boys and girls are victimized.

• Girls are primarily the victims of sexual violence. In 2006, girls under 16 accounted for 32 per cent of all sexual assaults in Jamaica. Not only do these girls suffer from a cloak of silence – in the same year, only 20 per cent of rape cases were reported to the police – they often end up with unwanted and unsafe pregnancies.

• Boys are more often targets of intentional injuries and murder – of the 175 children under 18 who were murdered in 2006, 149 (85 per cent) of them were boys.

• Children of both sexes are exposed to high levels of violence in their communities: in a recent study, 60 per cent of 9 to 17 year old children reported that a family member had been a victim of violence and 37 per cent had a family member who had been killed. Only 28 per cent of children thought their home neighbourhood was very safe.

• Both boys and girls are commonly punished in violent ways, generally starting at age two, but boys are often punished more frequently and harshly. A 2005 study revealed that only 11 per cent of parents use positive forms of discipline.

Professor Pinheiro told the Parliamentarians that reducing violence against children is a critical first step in lowering the overall steep rates of murder, crime and abuse affecting the country.

“In an environment where violence breeds more violence,” he said, “the way in which Jamaican children experience and are subjected to violence is inextricably linked to the unrelenting levels of crime and violence affecting the island.”

Jamaica may face an uphill task in breaking what appears to be a deeply embedded culture of violence, but Professor Pinheiro reminded the Parliament that all forms of violence are preventable. Noting that there are “no instant magic solutions”, he urged the country to build on progress it has made in protecting children from violence and mitigating its impact.

Professor Pinheiro called on Parliament to quickly adopt the National Plan of Action on an Integrated Response to Children and Violence, an important blueprint for a multifaceted approach to reducing violence against children.

He urged Parliamentarians to ensure that preventive efforts aim to improve parenting skills, expand life-skills based education in more of the nation’s schools, and strongly promote positive forms of discipline. “Teaching violence at early ages can actually fuel violence,” he said, reflecting on the need for more Jamaican families to avoid corporal punishment.

The Brazilian-born human rights activist called for a tightening of laws to hold perpetrators accountable for all forms of violence against children, particularly sexual abuse. He also emphasized the need for early and humane treatment of victims, and for more diversion programmes for children and young people in conflict with the law.

Prior to his address to Parliament, on Tuesday morning, Professor Pinheiro visited the community of Tower Hill in Kingston, where he talked to children and families whose lives have been severely affected for decades by gang-related violence.

In Gordon House, Professor Pinheiro acknowledged that it was a complex and difficult challenge to rid these and other communities in Jamaica of violence, but insisted that there was no reason to shrink from the responsibility. “We should stop excusing ourselves and respond now to the children’s call for a world free from violence.”


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