|Girls from the Allman Town community in Kingston, Jamaica. In 2006, over 1,700 children in Jamaica were the victims of major crimes.|
By Allison Hickling
KINGSTON, Jamaica, 12 February 2008 – In the heart of Jamaica’s 'conflict zones', it is not unusual for a silent night to be shattered by the roar of gunfire. Nor is it unusual for children who live in these communities to sleep underneath their beds, deathly afraid of stray bullets, or to keep a pair of shoes close by at all times, ready to run for their lives.
Still, the vast majority of Jamaicans refuse to accept this as the story of their lives and the future of their nation. They are raising their voices in a defiant ‘no’ to violence.
On 7 February, UNICEF partnered with the Violence Prevention Alliance, mobilizing thousands of people across the capital to celebrate a 30-day ‘Peace for Prosperity’ campaign, which will culminate in a massive march and rally on Peace Day, 4 March.
Speaking at the launch of Peace Month, UNICEF Representative in Jamaica Bertrand Bainvel said the road to peace begins with community leaders and members who “face their daily lives of poverty and the threat of violence with hope, and above all, with courage.”
Celebration of peace
Professor Barry Chevannes, one of the main architects of the Violence Prevention Alliance, described the planned Peace Day march as a “powerful symbol of intention, a sacrament that can bring inward strength and grace” to Jamaicans who long for lasting peace.
Rajay, 13, a former victim of physical abuse, summed up the call of Jamaica’s anti-violence campaign in a poem.
“All the gunshots need to cease,” he told the audience during the launch ceremony. “All oppressors need to leave their turf. We want relief from these disturbances.”
Workshops and events
During Peace Month, some 20 communities in Jamaica’s major crime hotspots will engage in workshops and cultural and sports events, exploring concrete ways to end the scourge of violence. Among these events are the following:
After Peace Month, as part of the effort to sustain peace-building activities, Sierra Leonean writer and activist Ishmael Beah, who spent a few years of his childhood as a soldier in brutal warfare, will visit Jamaica for the first time. He will talk with groups of young Jamaicans about how to shed a lifestyle of drug abuse and violence, including ways to get out and stay out of gangs.
Communities playing their part
Peace Month comes at a time when Jamaica is grappling with a growing epidemic of crime and violence. In 2006, over 1,700 children were victims of major crimes, including murder, rape and robbery. Children and adolescents made up an alarming 78 per cent of the patients referred to health facilities for sexual abuse in the same year.
Jamaica’s Minister of Health and Environment, the Hon. Rudyard Spencer, struck the most resounding note when he called on all Jamaicans – not just those who live in violence-plagued communities – to play their part in ending violence. “A threat to peace anywhere in Jamaica is a threat to peace everywhere in Jamaica,” he said.