Jamaica Observer: KINGSTON, by Kimberley Hibbert – Since 2015 over 6,000 children between ages 12 and 18 have been hauled before the courts for serious crimes, data from the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) have revealed.
The data, which reflects the period 2015 to April 2021, show that 6,494 children have been charged with the 28 crimes listed by the JCF.
Recording the highest arrests were assault, sexual intercourse with a child under 16, breaching the Firearms Act, rape, robbery, as well as breaking and entering.
The statistics show that, for 2015 to April 2021, 967 children were charged with assault; 195 with aggravated assault; 782 with sexual intercourse with a child under 16; and 396 were charged with sexual offence.
Another 350 children were charged with rape; 377 with robbery; 140 with shooting; 295 with having an offensive weapon; and 192 children were charged with murder.
Added to that, 534 children were charged with breaching the Firearms Act; 136 with breaches of the Dangerous Drugs Act; 328 were charged with break-in; while 87 were charged with larceny.
Children’s Advocate Diahann Gordon Harrison said, while the numbers were alarming, it points to dysfunction within the home and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs).
She made a call for more positive adult influences in the lives of children, explaining that while children were often victims of crime, they were also perpetrators.
“Not only do children in Jamaica feature as victims of crimes, they also are seen as perpetrators of crime – whether alleged or having gone through the entire criminal justice process and having been convicted for very serious crimes. So, yes, cliché as it may be, children do live what they learn,” Gordon Harrison said.
“They internalise things, and if psychosocial support and genuine interest isn’t given to them or provided to them by those around them, the seed will be planted for frightening or sad outcomes that we’ve begun to see… if we do not intervene in critical moments when children are hurting they will act out. If they see others getting away with wrong they will think the same of themselves.”
Based on a 2013 study done by the Office of the Children’s Advocate (OCA) on girls at a particular remand facility who had been placed having been deemed to be uncontrollable, Gordon Harrison said a deeper analysis of the girls revealed they had suffered from ACEs which caused them to act out.
“A lot of them were victims of sexual abuse, a lot of them were victims of extreme forms of corporal punishment in the home, a lot of them were victims of verbal abuse on a daily basis, and they in many instances would have made disclosures to either their stepmother or mothers who are in the home with them. They [adults] felt it wouldn’t make sense to go through with the criminal justice process and it made sense for these girls to keep quiet,” Gordon Harrison told the Sunday Observer.
“Even when they (girls) made the disclosures, they were encouraged to not go forward with the case and, over time, they became extremely angry and started acting out. When some of them ran away from home they were reported to the police as troublesome and then they came into the system as being beyond control.”
She added: “If we have children being exposed to all sorts of negative experiences and influences when they are growing up, and they are not given the necessary support to cope with these or they don’t have a sense that justice was done to address the wrong done against them, they act out, and this acting out has the system responding to the symptoms instead of going to the root cause of what happened in that child’s life to cause this behaviour to now become a thing that was surfacing.”
Further, Gordon Harrison emphasised that children displaying criminal behaviour are often the product of the active supervision by adults in their lives.
“It goes back to how they are raised, you know, moral values. Sometimes you can instil moral values and then they stray, but sometimes it also has to do with the active supervision. So we are seeing the company [friends] that they are keeping, we are seeing when they start to flirt with people who are not of good character, we are seeing when they start as foot soldiers of gangs and we intervene very readily, instead of just saying, ‘Oh, boy a suh di ting set.’ It has to do with when they are very young; the values and throughout their lives, young ages coming up, active supervision and disrupting bad association when you see them start setting in,” she said.
The children’s advocate further called on guardians to pay closer attention to their children’s school attendance – a key element in quickly pinpointing deviant behaviour.
“Sometimes when truancy sets in it means that that child may be getting involved with inappropriate company and being exposed to the early settings of a criminal lifestyle and so on. If you wait too long to intervene, that’s when they are no longer just hanging out with bad people, they are now actively participating,” she said.
Regarding those who are already in the criminal justice system, Gordon Harrison said the focus must be on re-emphasising rehabilitation so when they have finished serving time they do not exit as more serious criminals.
“That makes it much harder for us, as a society, as this now will be a youngster fully entrenched in a life of crime, which makes it much harder for a turn around to come…We need to turn this around. From where I sit, going back to basics is a critical part of the solution. Children model social behaviour and they learn from example. If they see a reaction without somebody telling them that this is the way to go… it becomes their reality,” she said.
- Top Feature Photo: Stabroek News