2001 JAM: Adolescence and Violence in Jamaica
Author: Wiliams, L.
The issue of violence is a critical one for Jamaica; at this moment, it could be argued that it is the most critical social issue confronting Jamaican society. Research shows that exposure to high levels of violence can potentially have a significant negative impact on the development process of adolescents.
In recognition that a number of quantitative research studies have already been undertaken in this area, it was felt important to undertake a qualitative piece of research that would enable adolescents to express their views on this critical area for them. Such a purpose would also enable the agencies sponsoring this report, and their partners, to identify the extent to which the literature resonates with the lived experience of a fairly representative group of adolescents.
Purpose / Objective
The main objective of this paper is to explore the position and perceptions of adolescents and to get an insight into how the exposure to violence impacts on this group of citizens. The term 'citizen' is used deliberately to indicate that a 'rights'-based conceptual framework informs this analysis. The second, more implicit, objective of this paper, therefore, is to make a tentative evaluation as to how well the Jamaican State is meeting its obligation under the CRC.
The paper provides a review of the relevant literature and the analysis of the views of a sample of 170 adolescents. This study was conducted in three geographical sites in Jamaica: Maxfield Park, in the capital; Montego Bay, the second city and tourism capital; and Clarks Town, a rural town. Eighteen focus groups were held, across the three sites, involving 170 adolescents. Each of the sessions lasted for approximately two hours. Adolescents aged 10-15 were drawn from six schools, whilst the older adolescents aged 16-19 were drawn from schools and communities in Montego Bay.
It is important to note at this point that the very fact that the majority of the adolescent participants in this study were in school suggests that we were not dealing with those adolescents who had already dropped out of school and become extremely alienated from the system. Indeed, it was clear that the majority of the adolescents taking part in the focus groups saw themselves as being able to find a way of not getting caught up in the crime and violence that they saw around them.
Key Findings and Conclusions
Causes of violence:
Verbal abuse, revenge/retaliation and the gaining of 'stripes' being identified as the main triggers. It is interesting to note that the revenge motive was seen as being very strong, in that there was almost consensus in all the groups that retaliation was legitimate, and anyone who did not retaliate would be picked on and seen as a coward. The quest for 'stripes' illustrated clearly the acceptance, and necessity, of aggression/violence as key to survival and social advancement in the adolescent and adult world.
Exposure to violence:
This research corroborates the high levels of violence to which adolescents are exposed in their daily lives, identified in all the recent research into this phenomenon. The sites of high exposure are:
-The family, in the form of witnessing domestic violence, child abuse, harsh corporal punishment and the mass media
-The School, in the form of peer violence and teacher-pupil conflict
-The Community, in the form of witnessing a wide range of violent incidences, from assaults to murder
The Impact of violence on adolescents:
There is no shortage of data on the negative impact of violence on adolescents. The strength of the impact is captured in the fact that many of the participants in this study felt brave enough to share publicly the fear and anxiety induced by their exposure to high levels of violence.
Fear of, and ambivalence towards, the police:
Many participants were able to give examples of what they believed to be police corruption and it was felt that the police were themselves responsible for some of the violence. Even if the adolescents did not have direct experience of violence from the police, they more often than not had friends or relatives who had, and they certainly saw many examples of police using violence on the television. Indeed, the Braeton shootings in which seven young men were shot in an alleged shootout with the police did not go un-remarked by the participants in several of the focus groups. There is evidence to support ambivalence towards the police.
The prevalence of drug taking did not emerge from the focus group discussions. The VIP Base Line Study does indicate a high prevalence rate of ganja smoking in the three sites in which our focus groups were held. However, our research clearly indicated the great ease with which drugs can be purchased. There was consensus in all the groups that there was easy access to ganja. It could be purchased at the local shop, or from any number of local persons. Adolescents saw parents and other adults freely consuming it; it was seen as being a pretty normal activity. It appears that cocaine was only slightly more difficult to purchase. Many participants felt that the drugs trade was one of the principal causes of the violence that impacts their lives on a daily basis. Yet, they appreciated that it also provided one of the avenues for social mobility. Young women experienced great pressure to act as couriers for drug dealers. The number of young Jamaican women in British prisons for carrying offences is already a cause for concern, not only for the young women themselves but also for the young children left behind in Jamaica.
Adult responsibility and the changing role of the state:
Adolescents are not perceived by adult society as citizens with rights. A continued public campaign needs to be launched around this issue. We need to enlist the support of parents and teachers in such a campaign.
There is a need for a social mobilisation strategy that seeks societal consensus around a Jamaican Charter for Children that would set out the conditions necessary to ensure that every child has a safe childhood. A practical way forward is for UNICEF and UNFPA to share the findings of this work with the relevant agencies working with adolescents and with groups of adolescents. The overall objective of such a consultation process would be to identify collectively the strategies and campaigns that would bring about the 'sea change' necessary in the wider society, to make the difference needed in adolescents' lives.
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