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Situation Analysis on Excluded Children in Jamaica Update 2006

© UNICEF Jamaica

Framing children’s exclusion in Jamaica

Over the last decades, Jamaica has made impressive strides to provide most of its children with access to health, nutrition, education and social welfare. Overall, the country is on a good track to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. Yet, even if all of these are met, out of the 977,000 Jamaican children under the age of 18 (37% of the population), thousands of these will be left out.  These are the most in need: the poorest, the most vulnerable, and the abused. They are currently beyond the reach of research, government programmes, and budgets. Their rights to birth registration, safe and protective environments, family care and love, quality education, life skills, and opportunity to participation are denied or violated.

In this document, children are considered excluded if they do not benefit from an environment that protects them from violence, abuse, exploitation, or if they are unable to access and benefit from, quality essential services, information and goods in a way that threatens their ability to participate fully in society during their childhood and in the future.   Children may be excluded by their family, institutions, the community, the government, services, civil society, the media, the private sector and other children. This report describes the manifestations of exclusion in Jamaica, analyses factors, identifies current and potential responses and provides recommendations for improvement.

From birth to adulthood, a multifaceted exclusion

No official existence for 10% of children under one.  A 2004 study  found that about 10% of births are not registered within the first year of life.  The right to immediate registration continues to be violated despite the fact that since 2000 in excess of 96% of total births have occurred in hospitals (98.2% in 2004). Children who are not registered are less likely to be provided appropriate care and protection as their existence is not documented – they are invisible. The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) makes it clear, in Articles 7 and 8, that it is the duty of governments to ensure that the right to registration immediately after birth is respected and enforced. Birth registration may be needed for access to services later in life, from a place in school to treatment in a hospital. It also affects planning and provision of critical services such as immunization and education and estimates of vital statistics.

Children still over-represented in poverty, missing out on key developmental opportunities. The incidence of poverty in Jamaica declined from 19.1% in 2003 to 16.9 % (448,002 persons) in 2004. Still, while only 37% of Jamaicans are children, almost one of every two (44.5%) Jamaicans who lives in poverty is a child.   Children in rural areas are the most affected with more than a quarter (25.6%) of them living in poverty.  Disparities in terms of consumption patterns are important: the poorest 20% of the population accounts for less than 7% of national consumption; the wealthiest fifth consumes almost as much as the rest of the nation (46.4% of total consumption). 

Children living in poverty in Jamaica are most at risk of missing out on secondary school. While over 98% of the children 4-14 years are enrolled in school, the rate plummets to 89% among 15-16 year olds and 47.8 among 17-18 year olds (some of this cohort have graduated secondary level).   Over 25% of children of the poorest quintile were out of school by age 16. This was true for only 2.2% of children in the wealthiest quintile. Seventy percent of the wealthiest 10% of children ages 17-18 years are still in educational institutions, compared to fewer than 29% of the poorest 10% . Daily attendance at school was estimated at only 62% for the children of the poorest quintile, far from the 92.5% national average.  About 62% of absences were due to “lack of money”.   One factor contributing to the high cost for education is the distance from school and the associated transportation costs. Another factor is the combination of a high percentage of female headed households (47.5% in 2004  of all Jamaican households) caring for a large number of children and persons (3.75 persons to be compared with 3.1 for male headed households) with limited resources (per capita consumption is less than 80% of that in households headed by males  ). Simply put, a Jamaican child living in a female headed household, has access to a smaller amount of resources than her/his friends living in other types of households.

More than 2,000 children in institutions, and deprived of parental care.  in 2005, there were 2,572 children living in residential institutions; the number of children continues to increase incrementally each year.  In addition, 274 children live in correctional institutions.  Children in institutions grow and develop without family care, love and support and are often more vulnerable to abuse. This in turn leads to greater difficulty to adjust to the society once they reach adulthood, and undermines their capacity to establish stable foundations for emotional, social and economic development.

Inadequate services and opportunities for children with disabilities, high level of stigma and discrimination. More than 37,000 Jamaican children live with one or several forms of disabilities including sight, hearing, speech, physical disability, mental retardation and learning disability , (3.86% of children). While the majority of the children are in the 5 – 14 age group and thus are of school-age, only 10% of children with disabilities are enrolled in formal school-based and other programmes receiving funding from the Government . Yet, in the CRC ratifying “State Parties recognize that a mentally or physically disabled child should enjoy a full and decent life, in conditions which ensure dignity, promote self reliance and facilitate the child’s active participation in the community.”(Article 23). The level of stigma facing persons with disabilities continues to be a major contributor to exclusion.  A UNICEF-supported study found that some parents viewed the birth of a disabled child as having supernatural connections: 40 % said the child was “sent by God” while 18% thought the disability was due to an evil spirit, punishment for a sin, or looking at a disabled person during pregnancy.  

7.5% of 15-17 year old children work: A 2002 study  estimates that 16,240 children (2.2%) between 5 and 17 years were involved in “economic activities”, mostly between the ages of 15 and 17 (7.5%). The working child is most likely to be a male teenager 15-17 years of age, working a 22-hour average per week. While not in contradiction with the international standards of the ILO, such a work is often performed in the informal sector, under very precarious conditions, and with little opportunities for further development. In addition, it is estimated that approximately 2,000 children live or work on the streets.

Increasing risks of HIV/AIDS infections for adolescents deprived of information, skills and services.    The annual number of reported AIDS cases increased by over 18% in 2004 (1,112) compared to 2001 (939); 56.3% of the cases were among males but the rate of increase is higher for females.  Children (0-19 years) and young people (20-29 years) reported with AIDS account for 9 and 19 percent respectively (28% cumulative total) of total AIDS cases, with AIDS being the second leading cause of death in children aged 1-4 years. Adolescent girls are increasingly vulnerable: girls 10-19 years are almost three times more likely to become infected with HIV than a boy of the same age. This is as a result of physiological and social factors, including early sexual initiation (15 years old for girls, 13 for boys), young girls having sexual relations with HIV infected older men (50% of young women report having sex with partners 5 to 10 years older than them), as well as high rates of forced sex (reported by 20% of girls), poor knowledge and frequent unsafe practices among adolescents. Comprehensive correct knowledge about AIDS stands at 36% among adolescents in school and 31% among those out of school.  Among males of the same age group the rate is even lower at 30% (in school) and 22% (out of school) . Life-skills based education has yet to be implemented in the national curriculum and access to services for adolescents, including voluntary and confidential counseling and testing must be quickly expanded.

Teen pregnancy, double exclusion. Approximately 20% of births are given by adolescents. In other words a child gives birth to a child in one out of 5 births. Had all teenage pregnancies been brought to terms the rate would be even higher. This is attributable to a number of factors including high rate of forced sex, transactional sex, low rate of contraceptive use, early sexual initiation, and poor access to information and skills on safe and responsible sex. A birth by a child puts two children at risk, as teenage pregnancy often leads to complication in pregnancy and delivery, lack of care and support for the newborn, and too often exclusion from educational and professional opportunities for the young mother. About one-third (32.8 percent) of women experiencing pregnancy between the ages of 15 and 24 years first conceived while still in school and only 34 percent of adolescent mothers return to school after giving birth (up from 16 percent in 1993) (Friedman 1999). Once they leave school, they are not prepared for parenting, and poverty often pushes young mothers into transactional sexual relationships with multiple partners to obtain the resources necessary to support their children and themselves. This further increases the mother’s vulnerability to exploitation and domestic violence, as well as child abuse.

Children are too often excluded from decision making on issues deeply affecting their lives and that of their communities. Children are seen but not heard, at home, in their communities, in their classrooms and in the development of plans and policies be it at community, school or national level.

The root causes of exclusion

At home, too few opportunities for learning skills for life. Homes and families constitute the most protective and enabling environment for the child to grow and develop. This is where he or she will be able to acquire skills essential to navigate life and further develop emotionally, cognitively and socially.  Parents and other care givers have a key responsibility in this regard. Yet, the range of activities caregivers report doing with children is very limited: only about one-third of the caregivers told stories, played games or sang songs to the children.  The most frequently shared activity was household chores (59%) while less than half (42%) spent time on learning activities or teaching moral issues (46.2%).

Violence is taught to children at an early age, as corporal punishment remains the dominant form of discipline, especially for younger children. The study  found that children under 12 years of age were more likely to be physically punished (hit with a hand or an implement) than those over 12 years old.  Caregivers were more likely to reason with, shout at or remove privileges for the older children than to physically punish them.  The Child Care and Protection Act (2004) prohibits corporal punishment in institutions and the Early Childhood Act (2005) forbids its use in early childhood institutions.  It has yet to be forbidden in all primary and schools and other facilities hosting children.

Poor educational outcomes increase risks of inter-generational exclusion, boys under-perform. The Ministry of Education, Youth and Culture reports that “less than one-third of the children entering grade one were ready for primary level [and] some 30% of primary school leavers were illiterate...”   In 2003/04 academic year 35,886 students were enrolled at the grade 11 of the secondary system. Only 21% of the cohort passed English in CXC and a mere 10% Maths. Female students outperformed males by far (close to 30% in English for females to be compared with approximately 13% for males; in Maths, 12% and 9% respectively). Disparities are high in terms of type of schools attended with Maths and English passed by 2.7% and 7.3% respectively  of those enrolled in the upgraded high schools (more than 50% of total cohort)- to be compared with 23% and 46% respectively for those in secondary high schools (close to one third of total cohort).  A Jamaican child without multiple CXC passes faces severe challenges in accessing higher education or meaningful employment, and faces increased risk of being excluded from the social processes.  The Government of Jamaica acknowledges that “the education system continue[s] to fall below the standard to qualify Jamaica to become globally competitive.”  Education infrastructure continues to decline: a 1998 audit shows that 20% of the schools are in need of major repair while it was estimated that as much as 50% of schools were in need of repairs.   The Task Force on Education Report notes that there is “inadequate classroom space to allow for different teaching options such as mixed ability groupings, as well as inadequate staffrooms, administrative office space, sick bays and limited facilities for the physically challenged.” 

Children caught in violence: 91 children murdered in 2005; sexual abuse of children rampant; child development undermined. Of the 1,674 persons murdered in Jamaica in 2005, 91 were children (5.44%).  Over the past five years, more than 300 children have been murdered.  The number of sexual crimes among children continues unabated: 367 cases of rape and 346 cases of carnal abuse were reported in 2005. One poll  found that 85% of households that were victims of crime reported it to the police.  However, when the crime was rape, reporting was 20%.  If these figures are indicative of actual reporting, as many as 1,800 cases of rape of children might have occurred in 2005.  In 2004, violence caused the closure of schools; children were prevented from preparing for and taking exams while some had to be escorted to test centres by the police; attendance and performance declined in some schools; and, some children cannot move freely in or around their communities.  The psychological impact children and their families is beyond measure.  In economic terms, it is estimated to cost the country over J$15 billion (US$236M) annually: this is equal to the annual health budget or about half that for education.  Children are neither effectively protected from the ravages of violence in their communities nor are they provided with rehabilitative services to recuperate from the effects of violence.

HIV/AIDS increases children’s vulnerabilities and risks for exclusion. With an overall prevalence rate of approx 1.5% among the population, it is estimated that more than 20,000 children are made vulnerable by the epidemic, as they see their care givers getting infected by HIV or dying of AIDS. According to the anecdotal evidence, while not living with the virus, orphans children made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS suffer from poor nutrition, lack of schooling, and trauma from witnessing the death of a family member. Stigma and discrimination undermine family and community support, and often further marginalize non-infected children who are sent to children’s homes, in isolation from their peers, with consequent damage to their emotional and psychological development, as well as their re-integration in the society. With increasing rates of infection among adolescents under pervasive stigma, adolescents living with HIV/AIDS are now facing discrimination and greater risks of exclusion from their communities, families, and friends.

Children do not get their share in the national budget.  While children are given a high priority in the development of national policies and plans, resource allocation are not commensurate to objectives and are dwindling. A 2005 budget analysis  estimates the share of the total budget allocated to children’s programmes and services at 10.87% in 2003/04 and 10.68 in 2004/05. Expenditure as a percent of GDP is also declining: estimated at 6.29% in 2004/05, it was 6.8% in 2003/04.  In 2003/04, 96% of budget allocation that went to education and 80% of that to health went to recurrent costs with minimal funds available for capital expenditure. Firmly establishing early childhood, education reform, violence reduction, the response to HIV/AIDS, and the promotion of social inclusion as national priorities will require an immediate reversal in the trend and a significantly higher proportion of budget allocated to these areas so critical to child survival, development, protection and participation.

Children vulnerable to natural disasters and outcomes of international trade negotiations.  The 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons provided a strong reminder of Jamaica’s vulnerability to natural hazards and their potential economic, social and environmental impacts. The estimated cost of damage to the agricultural sector associated with Hurricanes Ivan, Charley and Lily, for example, was $90.4M. Additionally, sections of the country received twice the 30-year mean rainfall for the month of September because of rains associated with Hurricane Ivan, which took the lives of seventeen persons and caused the dislocation of several thousands. The poor and most vulnerable groups – especially children- suffer most because of their inability to prepare appropriately for natural disasters . The outcomes of international trade negotiations –especially on sugar and bananas-  may also significantly affect livelihoods and poverty status of thousands of rural Jamaican children. Sugar employs the second largest number of Jamaicans (28,000 off-peak, 41000 at harvest) and an estimated 200,000 get their livelihood from sugar cane.    

Including Jamaican children

Over the years, Jamaica has developed a comprehensive arsenal of responses aiming at tackling the root causes of children’s exclusion. Many of them need to be consolidated, expanded, and reviewed to take into account new dimensions of exclusion and further promote social integration.

Increased focus on familial care and scaling up of better parenting programmes. As part of efforts to reduce the number of children in residential institutions, the Child Development Agency launched a comprehensive programme aimed at increasing the number of children in foster care by 25%.  This effort should be fully supported so as to provide familial care to as many children as possible. A number of organizations, including RUFAMSO in Clarendon and the Parental Support Action Teams supported by the Child Development Agencies and a coalition of NGOs such as Children First and 3 Ds, have developed community-based, innovative approaches with demonstrated results. Partnerships with government are now essential to bring these initiatives to scales through government programmes and partnerships between government and NGOs. These programmes will need to be supported by appropriate financial and social assistance to vulnerable families.

On-going review of PATH, a conditional cash transfer programme. The consolidated social benefits scheme, Programme for Advancement through Health and Education (PATH), reached 161,827 persons in 2004, approximately 70% of whom were children. Persons with disabilities were 2% of the beneficiaries. Over 81% of the PATH beneficiaries are from the poorest 40% of the population: approximately half (48.3%) are from the poorest quintile and 33.1% are from the second poorest quintile.  However, almost one-fifth of the benefits go to persons from the middle and upper income groups and further highlights the need for improved targeting. Improving compliance in accessing education and health, responding to vulnerability brought by violence and HIV/AIDS, and better addressing the specific dimension of urban poverty would be important elements informing further review of the programme.

Implementation of the National Task Force on Education Recommendations.  Implementation of these recommendations including on early childhood  should significantly improve the quality of education children receive. No budgetary or political resource should be spared to ensure full implementation of the recommendations.  Quality education is a key strategy to promote social inclusion and  community-based initiatives such as Children First in Spanish Town, the Western Society for the Upliftment of Children in Montego Bay, the St Andrew Care Centre in Kingston,  are likely to provide useful lessons to inform government objectives in scaling up the reintegration of children and youth who have dropped out of school into the formal education system.

Implementation of the multi-sectoral national plan on children and violence and the national plan on children and justice. Developed under the leadership of the Planning Institute of Jamaica, the plan addresses all aspects of prevention, mitigation and rehabilitation in relation to children and violence. It delineates responsibilities, accountabilities and resource needs for effective implementation. The allocation of commensurate resources will be essential to ensure effective  implementation of the plan under the coordination of the Planning Institute of  Jamaica and within the Violence Prevention Alliance. The same commitment will be necessary to implement the national plan on children and justice under the responsibility of the Ministry of Justice, and promote cost-saving and rights-based alternatives to institutionalization in the case of children in conflict with the law.

Scaling up HIV/AIDS Interventions and fighting associated stigma and discrimination.  Prevention among adolescents is a key strategy in halting the spread of HIV/AIDS. Access to information, services, and skills is essential. Efforts such as the National School-Based policy on HIV/AIDS, the piloting of Health Family Life Education in 23 schools, and the delivery of voluntary confidential counseling and testing through youth-friendly approaches by organisations such as Children First must be carefully monitored and evaluated with an aim to nation-wide coverage. National campaigns against stigma and discrimination, and the involvement of all the national and community leaders are essential to ensure that families, schools, communities do not exclude and genuinely care for people living with or affected by HIV/AIDS- including children.

Children more visible in budgets, to be heard in policy and community development.  The Medium Term Socio-Economic Framework (MTF) represents a clear set of social goals and targets which the Government of Jamaica aims to achieve by 2007 as it strives towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals.  The MTF gives clear priority to children and its implementation is supported through the government ministries and agencies.  The Social Investment for Children Initiative led by PIOJ aims at creating sustainable systems to monitor expenditure towards the MTF targets, increase transparency in the budgeting process and build capacity of NGOs and children to advocate for greater investment for children. Along with the development of appropriate mechanisms to allow for child participation in schools, communities and at the national level, such initiatives will have the potential to create child-friendlier environments.

Strengthening new promising institutions in the prevention of exclusion.  Over the last 3 years, Jamaica has consolidated its institutional capacity to improve the protection of its children. The Office of Children's Advocate was established and the first Children's Advocate was appointed in January 2006.  This is major achievement and every must be made to ensure the required resources are provided to ensure effective functioning of the Office. A Vital Statistics Commission was set up in 2005 and should address critical concerns regarding the quality of vital statistics and address gaps in birth registrations as well as maternal mortality.  Work also started towards establishing the Registry of Child Abuse as required by the Child Care and Protection Act.  There is need to expedite the process so as to improve avenues available to children who experience violence, abuse or exploitation. Commensurate allocation of resources is essential to further strengthen the capacity of the Child Development Agency in delivering its complex and essential mandate in child protection.

Fresh data to inform national debate and policy development.  New data will be available to policy makers in 2006 as generated by the UN-supported  and STATIN-led Multi-Indicator Cluster Survey.  Access to services and outcomes in relation with poverty will help inform the development of a national debate and possibly overall policy on the prevention of exclusion and the promotion of social integration.


The concept of exclusion is multidimensional and includes the reinforcing socio-political factors that are the basis of discrimination and disadvantage. It is to this end that UNICEF maintains that it is not so much the multi-faceted manifestations of the exclusion that must be tackled, but rather “the root causes of exclusion and the factors making children invisible”.  Exclusion is not only framed by current circumstances, but also by bleak prospects of the future. Failure to minimize children’s exposure to factors leading to exclusion will have implications not only for those directly affected but the wider society and future generations.

  • Speech by Bertrand Bainvel, UNICEF Representative, at the launch of  State of the World's Children Report 2006 and Situation Analysis on Excluded Children in Jamaica-15 March 2006, St.  Andrew Settlement, Majesty Gardens

Tanya, Giovanni, Marshall, Jhaid,  Sean, Jessie, Levanna,  Romane, Jordano,  Sherene, all the other children whose lives have been snuffed out by violence since the beginning of the year - this day is dedicated to your memory.

Mr. Chairman; children, Hon. John Junor;  Children's Advocate, Mrs. Mary Clarke; Rector of  St.  Andrew Parish Church; Rev. Major Sirrano Kitson; Supt. Newton Amos in charge, St. Andrew South, sisters and bothers from the UN family , ladies and gentlemen – in light of the very disturbing trend on violence against children and in relation to exclusion, the theme of the State of the World’s Children Report 2006 that brings us together today, I feel that we need to go back to basics and restate the obvious. Children are human beings. To see them treated as mere commodities in the vicious circles of violence and reprisal or in our pursuit for sexual gratification, is deeply disturbing. We also slap, beat, insult, or undermine children, out of our own desire to prove our authority or to discipline them. All of this points to our underlying perception that we deal with inferior human beings with lesser rights. 

Today, I would like us to leave with 3 commitments: 1/ Let’s include all children; 2/ Let’s get our children on the right track; and 3/ Let’s invest in children.

1. Let's include all children. At present, there are more than 2,000 children in institutions and the number continues to increase each year. Only 10% of children with disabilities are enrolled in formal school-based and other programmes receiving funding from the Government. Stigma and discrimination associated with disability, class, and HIV/AIDS further exclude children from playgrounds, schools, friends and opportunities for development.  We have the solutions, right here in Jamaica. Let’s expand them- promote foster care and adoption, improve the quality of education, promote second chance for formal education, and strengthen social safety nets. Through stronger leadership, education and legislation we can reduce stigma and discrimination. We do now have the opportunity to have a fresh look at our society.  I propose that we further assess exclusion, barriers to access, and opportunities for social integration with a view to drafting a comprehensive national policy against exclusion and for social integration.

2. Let's get our children on the right track.  And let’s start at home and at school. A recent survey conducted by PIOJ concluded that only 1/3 of parents told stories, played games, or sang songs to their children and only 11% resorted to removing privileges or reasoning to discipline their children. Later on, reaching adolescence, the vast majority of Jamaican children are not able to access the necessary knowledge, skills and services to protect themselves against HIV/AIDS and violence. Homes and schools are where children learn skills essential to navigate life and further develop emotionally, congnitively and socially. Through proper parenting and life-skills based education, this is where we should lay the basis for their social, cultural, and economic integration.

3. Let's invest in children. Currently it is estimated that only 10% of the budget is allocated to children, i.e. to health, education, social protection, HIV/AIDS and other sectors.  This is insufficient if we want to significantly improve the quality of education and ensure universal access to the quality we are thriving for. It means this will not be sufficient to help families break the cycle of poverty and make sure that the current one fourth of the poorest children stay in schools after 15.

We must re-commit ourselves to the goals of the Copenhagen World Social Summit  of allocating 20% of the budget to social and human capital development. At the same time,  we must give a higher priority to the implementation of community-based and preventive solutions, which are not only right from a rights-perspective but are going to immediately generate cost savings - I have in mind here foster care and adoption, diversion solutions for young offenders, and greater emphasis on prevention against violence and AIDS. We also need to give appropriate resources to the Child Development Agency, the office of the Children’s Advocate and soon the Children’s Registrar, - all those new institutions that Jamaica can be proud of and have key responsibilities for enhancing children’s wellbeing and protection in Jamaica.
Let’s include all children;  Let’s get them on the right track; and let’s invest in them.

I would like to thank the St. Andrew Settlement for so graciously agreeing to host this event.   Community-based services offered by St. Andrew Settlement are concrete examples of the creativity and commitments of Jamaicans towards achieving the ideals of the national anthem “strengthen us the weak to cherish”.  This is the kind of approaches behind which we need to put our systems and financial resources. They will help all at-risk children find their way back to social integration. 

Since I have been in Jamaica I have often heard that it “takes cash to care”, and this has too often been taken as an excuse to put children as a second order of priority on the national agenda. I would like us to change that, more than cash it takes “courage to care”. Courage to change entrenched ideas about how we raise our children and support their families.  Courage to develop and implement policies that recognize children as the subjects of rights.  Courage to prioritise the investment in children over other considerations in budgets and resource allocations. And above all, courage to realize that investing today in our children is the key for the success of the nation, today and tomorrow.




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