Commentary Jamaica Magazine

Jamaica, the Land we love: Paradise or Hell on Earth?

A society can be measured by the way it treats its most vulnerable. The three groups that are most vulnerable in any society are: the elderly and infirm, the young, babies, toddlers, school age and adolescence, inclusive.  Lastly, the mentally ill. For our purpose, vulnerable is the susceptibility of certain groups to physical, emotional, and or sexual injury. For the most part, most countries, developed or developing, usually ensure the safety and security of these groups. This article focuses on the horrendous and inhumane atrocities afflicting our children in Jamaica:  abuse, murder and various forms of exploitation.

Once upon a time Jamaica was regarded as one of the safest and best places for child rearing. As a society, we protected our most fragile from falling prey to the demons among us, who often disguise as human. In fact, there was a time when the Jamaican Diaspora in North America and Europe would ensure their children ‘learn the culture” by sending the children to Jamaica to live with relatives. The rationale was that our sense of morality was superior. Gone are those days forever! Most Jamaicans who grew up in the seventies, eighties and even earlier, will attest that Jamaica was amongst the safest places for child rearing. Most families, regardless of socioeconomic status or educational background, instilled certain values such as: respect, honesty, great work ethics, self reliance, and power of resilience and even the notion of being your brother’s keeper.

 The community was instrumental in caring for the children and ensuring that their basic needs for food, shelter, safety and love and belonging, are met. If an adult hurt a child in any way that would indicate malicious intent, cruelty, or sexual in nature, the community exercises vigilante justice. Child sexual abuse in these communities usually results in the “death penalty”. Not by the justice system but by the community. As a result, child abuse and especially sexual abuse, was extremely rare. And even taking into account the under reporting by victims and their families. The community as a whole ensure the safety and protection of our future leaders. Whitney Houston sums it up nicely in her mega hit,” The Greatest Love of All.” “I believe the children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way. Show them all the beauty they possess inside, give them a sense of pride…….” In today’s Jamaica, it does not appear as our future matters.

Fast track to 2011, here is what Jamaicans are faced with:  two month old baby raped and murdered, nine month old baby raped and sodomized resulting in death, the beheading of several children, five year old throat slashed while he was sleeping, seven year old gagged, bound, throat slashed and seven stab wounds to his body. Eight and ten year old girls raped and murdered, children being burnt alive, male raping young boys(most recent in Tivoli Gardens perpetrator shot by police). Young girls been raped and sodomize by women.  Another trend in the child abuse saga is mature women raping young boys; some as young as 5 years old. This form of sexual abuse seem to be under reported. According to Dr. McGill, the problem of older women raping young boys is more prevalent than we realize. In one incident, a 6 year old boy was raped and his body cut into pieces and thrown in a ditch.  The violence against kids is not exclusive to Jamaicans residing in Jamaica, but also the Jamaican Diaspora in North America. Two Jamaica couples were recently charged with murdering their young kids under 10 years old. One of the couple is currently serving a prison term for their crime. Equally appalling is the fact that  young boys and girls are trafficked from rural Jamaica to work in the urban areas in particular tourist areas to work as prostitutes for the pedophile tourists who come to Jamaica to exploit these kids sexually.  This is not exclusive to tourists, but some locals with an appetite for such deviant sexual behavior’s a matter of fact, the word is spreading in the pedophile underground world that Jamaica is the place to go for sex with minors without the risk of being caught and persecuted.

 In the July 17 issue of the Jamaica Gleaner,  Tyrone Reid stated that 1500, kids and teens have been murdered since 2001. Equally  frightening, is that since January 2011, 1,600  children have been shot and or wounded requiring medical intervention  . For a country with a population of only 2.8 million, this is by far too many. According to Mrs. Carla Edie of the  Office of the Children Registry, since 2007, there has been 12,000 reported cases of abuse and assault causing injury . In 2009 alone there were 6,000 cases of child abuse reported . One can surmise that this number is not reflective of the true crime rate against children as those families living in rural Jamaica may not report crimes against children due to various factors; inaccessible resources, ignorance, poverty and fear and adherence to the code of silence. UNICEF has reported that Jamaica is second in the world for child abuse and sexual exploitation. South Africa ranks number one. The issue of child sexual abuse is so rampant that according to UNICF Jamaica, in 2006, 78 % of the sexual assault victims treated in a health care setting were children and adolescent.

Child abuse in Jamaica appears to be escalating at a very rapid pace. According to the OCR, crime against children is escalating at an unbelievable rate.. Take for instance, in 2007, there were 425 reported cases of child abuse, in 2008 that number jumped to 3, 784. This alarming trend is frightening. In her article “Dark Days for Jamaican Children,” Marvia shared with her readers how she wept while writing the article on the plight of our children. She is not alone. I am sure most Jamaicans, both living in Jamaica and the Jamaican Diaspora abroad have a similar reaction. In fact, talking to a fellow Jamaican about the issue, she compared what is happening to Jamaican children to what Adolf Hitler did to the Jews back in WW2. The most salient difference she surmised, is that there was an international outcry for justice against Germany. Sadly, these poor Jamaican kids, do not seem to have anyone/group advocating aggressively enough to effect change on their behalf, hence the escalation in crimes against them over the past few years.
The most blatantly appalling reality this author experienced during the research for this article is the complacency with which a lot of Jamaicans relate to the issue of child abuse. This matter of fact way of relating to such horrendous crimes against Jamaican children is not only shocking but frightening. This is especially concerning when one takes into consideration that we were once perceived as amongst the best care givers on the international scale. In fact, for a while most caregivers/nannies employed in North America were Jamaicans and Philipinos. In light of the increasing brutality of Jamaican children, one cannot help but wonder how it has affected our reputation as excellent care givers on the international scale. Only time will tell.

The demonic beasts  that  are responsible for committing  these  horrific crimes against our most vulnerable, are exactly that, ‘Demons’.  Most Jamaicans will agree on that. The more troubling question however, is this; why isn’t there more of an outcry from the Jamaican people nationally? Who is really advocating on behalf of these poor souls.? What is being done and will be done to curve the brutality against our children? When will it end? What implications will this abuse of our young have on the future Jamaica? One thing is for sure, there cannot be any positive impact from these atrocities . Consider that children learn what they live vice versa, one can assume that left unchecked, the future generation will be even more vicious and barbaric than the current generation. Why? They have witnessed too much and at too young age and especially victims, who sometimes grow up to be perpetrators themselves. Research indicates that as much as 60 to 75 percent of victims of abuse eventually become abusers themselves. This is especially prevalent in victims of sexual assault.

 So where do we go from here? These are complex issues and  there is no single answer  or solution to this question. In fact, any approach or attempt to curve this evil against our kids will require multiple interventions over a longer period of time.  There are some programs  that are currently in place but obviously it’s not adequate, to tackle and eradicate the problem. This is evidenced by not only the increase in child murders, abuse, etc. but as well, complacency of the Jamaican public towards the plight of our children.

The Jamaican government and in particular the Minister of youth need to be deeply involved whether its forming a task force to investigate the dept of the problem and realize the incidence of child abuse per capita. As well, advocating for funds to help to tackle the problem. Ensuring an adequate budget allotment for dealing with these issues of child abuse should be a priority for the minister of youth. There is a need for tougher and enforceable laws to punish these heartless perpetrators. The public needs to be held accountable, anyone who witness child abuse and fail to report it should be punished. The Child Care and Protection Act makes it mandatory for persons who suspect child abuse to make a report to state agencies. Protecting children from harm is not an individual responsibility, but a societal one. We need to emulate thy brother’s keeper attitude in particular when it comes to protecting our most precious but yet most vulnerable, our children.

About the author

Audrey Reeve