JAMAICA: Infants face severe punishment, says violence expert

[28 February 2008] - A global violence expert has said that Jamaican infants are being subjected to severe forms of punishment from as early as age two, with boys being sanctioned more severely and more often.

"Violence becomes a part of a child's life in the earliest years of life. It is common for Jamaican children between ages two and five to be subjected to severe punishment using all forms of violence, boys receive this punishment more frequently," Professor Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro told parliamentarians at Gordon House in Kingston.

Pinheiro, a former United Nations (UN) independent expert for the 2006 UN Study on Violence against Children, noted that toughening young boys through neglect and physical punishment actually weakens them as it renders them more vulnerable to involvement in violence during adolescence and adulthood.

He also said that while girls are spared more often in that respect, they were the primary victims of sexual abuse, with girls under 16 accounting for 32 per cent of the sexual assaults in the island last year. But most of these girls, he said, "suffer quietly".

"In the same year, only 20 per cent of the rape cases were estimated to be reported to the police," he said.

Surrounded by violence

Pinheiro said Jamaican children are surrounded by violence, whether it be in their homes, schools or in residential and correctional institutions. He added that 60 per cent of children between ages nine and 17 said members of their families had been victims of violence, while 37 per cent of them had a family member who was murdered.
Only 28 per cent of these youngsters thought their neighbourhoods were very safe.

"Corporal punishment has been banned in early childhood institutions, but continues at higher levels in school, where children also suffer from closures and disruptions due to violence," he said, adding that more than 2,000 children are growing up in institutions where they are deprived of parental care.

However, Professor Pinheiro said that in addressing the scourge of violence against children, the Government must be more preventative than reactive in its efforts. He also urged Parliament to quickly adopt the National Plan of Action on an Integrated Response to Children and Violence, which is an important blueprint for a multifaceted approach to reducing violence against children.

"Violence is not a natural or unavoidable phenomenon, it can and it must be prevented," said Pinheiro. "Years of research and collaboration between professionals of public health, security and justice indicate that if governments address the root causes and risk factors that may give rise to violence, reality will change. Easy access to small arms, the lack of safe public spaces, the lack of trust in justice systems are all central factors for the perpetuation of violence. We must shift from "reaction to prevention": Governments and other international institutions must concentrate efforts and resources in long-term measures that change once and for all the contexts where violence thrives."

He said that while he advocated preventative measures, central to any efforts to address violence was early detection coupled with the ability to respond quickly to any situation. Children, he added, need safe and accessible channels to report violence. The justice system and the police, he said, need to work carefully not to "exacerbate the pain and suffering of children".

"Equally, perpetrators must be held accountable for their violations," he said. "An efficient system to assist victims and stop perpetrators is central to changing the state of fear and isolation of many victims of recurrent forms violence," Pinheiro said.

Further information

pdf: http://www.crin.org/docs/Pinheiro_speech_FINAL.pdf

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