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Jamaica has made impressive strides to provide most of its children with access to health, nutrition, education and social services. Prospects for achieving the Millennium Development Goals are good. The incidence of poverty is declining. However, almost one of every two Jamaicans who live in poverty is a child while only 37 per cent of Jamaicans are children. While children are given a high priority in the development of national policies and plans, resource allocations are not commensurate with objectives.
Issues facing children in Jamaica
- Violence and abuse are serious problems: 91 children were murdered in 2005 and reports of sexual abuse of children are common.
- More than 2,000 children live in institutions, deprived of parental care.
- Inadequate services and opportunities exist for children with disabilities. These children are subject to high levels of stigma and discrimination.
- About 7.5 per cent of 15-17 year old children work.
- About 1 in 5 children is born to a teenage mother.
- Poor educational outcomes, especially among boys, increase risks of inter-generational exclusion.
- A 2005 budget analysis estimates the share of the total budget allocated to children’s programmes and services at 10.87 per cent in 2003/04 and 10.68 per cent in 2004/05 – a declining proportion.
- Adolescents do not have sufficient access to information, skills and services for HIV/AIDS knowledge and prevention, increasing the risk of infection.
- Many children lack opportunities for learning life skills at home.
Activities and results for children
- The national Child Care and Protection Act was passed in 2004 with the support of UNICEF. Work has begun on a Child Abuse Registry.
- The Office of the Children’s Advocate was established in January 2006.
- Many reforms are in motion with respect to early childhood care. The Early Childhood Commission (ECC) has been established as the main coordinating and monitoring body.
- The Early Childhood Act passed in February 2005. Regulations for the operation day care centres and basic schools have been approved by Parliament.
- A review of the Early Childhood Curriculum, now underway with UNICEF's support, will benefit 300,000 children.
- The National Youth Policy was presented to Parliament in 2005. The Policy supports improvements in youth education and training, employment and entrepreneurship, health care, youth participation and empowerment, and care and protection.
- A National Policy for HIV/AIDS Management in Schools seeks to ensure that children infected and affected by HIV/AIDS have access to education and that schools deliver HIV/AIDS and family life education to reduce young people’s vulnerability to HIV infection.
- A National Plan of Action for an Integrated Response to Children and Violence was completed in 2005 with technical and financial support from UNICEF.
- The Social Investment Initiative for Children launched in 2006 with support from UNICEF, UNDP, the Cabinet Office, the Planning Institute of Jamaica, the Child Development Agency and the Jamaica Coalition on the Rights of the Child. The Initiative seeks to ensure that social investment is consistent with agreed national priorities for children.