The proliferation and misuse of small arms and light weapons is a major factor behind the violence plaguing countries across the region. The Caribbean and Latin America presents the highest rate of armed violence in the world – 42 per cent of all homicides globally.
Over the last two days, representatives from Jamaica, Belize, Brazil, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago met in Kingston to assess the human impact of this troubling statistic: the devastating and often unquantifiable price paid by children and their communities.
Not only are children and their families direct victims of gun-related violence, they suffer several indirect consequences from the social and economic fallout of this violence.
In Jamaica, 175 children and adolescents were murdered in 2006. In a recent study, 60 per cent of 9 to 17 year old Jamaican children reported that a family member had been a victim of violence and 37 per cent had a family member who had been killed. Only 28 per cent of children thought their home neighbourhood was very safe.
Participants in the meeting, co-hosted by the Ministry of National Security, UNDP, UNICEF and the Violence Prevention Alliance, agreed that in their respective countries children are overwhelmingly the victims of armed violence, not the perpetrators. They are caught in both spontaneous forms of violence as well as more organized forms.
“Children are used as pawns in gang and turf warfare,” said Bertrand Bainvel, UNICEF Jamaica Representative. “They are made to conceal or carry weapons and to act as look-outs for enemies, reminiscent of the use of child soldiers in other parts of the world. We need tougher laws that will make it impossible for children to be victimized in this way.”
Strengthening legislation to protect more children was among the key points raised by Professor Paulo Pinheiro, global expert on violence against children, in his recent address to the Jamaican Parliament.
Prior to the meeting, children from violence-prone communities in Kingston contributed their views on the impact that armed violence has on their lives. One teenage girl reflected on the disturbing reality that for some inner-city children, ‘shottas’ are seen as “a good and a bad thing in one”, acting as both a source of harm and protection for communities.
The consultation acknowledged that numerous steps have been taken to curb armed violence and mitigate its impact on children and communities. Lack of effective coordination and insufficient data, however, have hampered the ability of Caribbean and Central American countries to overcome this complex challenge.
Participants shared several case studies of successful policies and programmes that could be implemented in other countries.
The work of the Peace Management Initiative (PMI) was highlighted as an innovative and promising effort in Jamaica. PMI works closely with a host of volatile inner-city communities to provide mediation, conflict resolution and life skills training and income-generating opportunities.
The hospital-based Injury Surveillance System, developed and implemented in Jamaica, was also lauded as a good model to be replicated elsewhere in the Caribbean and Central America.
Four priority areas for action emerged from the consultation:
• Building and enforcing a protective legal and policy environment
• Promoting a culture of peace, beginning with interventions in the earliest years of life
• Providing child and youth-friendly services for victims and perpetrators
• Coordinating and monitoring overall progress
In implementing these actions, participants emphasized the need for countries in the region to focus on scaling up social interventions rather than relying solely on the enforcement of stronger policing measures. Within this effort, they called for interventions to begin in early childhood and for more direct community-level interventions to strengthen conflict resolution and life skills.
Participants also shared the concern that strategies to reduce armed violence must be better informed by more effective collection and use of data to inform relevant policies and programmes.
UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.
For further information, please contact:
Allison Hickling, UNICEF Jamaica, Tel: 926-7584, firstname.lastname@example.org