What Jamaica is doing to end violence in schools

A Pathfinder Country in the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children

Fayval Williams, Minister of Education, Youth and Information
In Jamaica, too many children do not have this protection. Their lives are being stained by violence – often at the hands of people they love and trust.
UNICEF Jamaica/Brown
18 March 2021

In November 2016, the Jamaican government committed to the elimination of violence against children at the launch of the ‘Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children’ campaign in Kingston. This commitment was further to a number of programmes already in place aimed at reducing the incidence of violence among children especially in schools.

Jamaica’s participation in this international campaign followed the country being accorded the status of a “Pathfinder country” joining Mexico, El Salvador, Paraguay, Sweden, Tanzania, and Indonesia among others, in the fight against violent attacks on children. This provided another opportunity for Jamaica to engage partners on multiple levels: ministries, departments and agencies of government, non-government organizations, community-based organizations and civil society groups – to plan the way forward to achieve safety for all children.  

In fact, our Prime Minister Andrew Holness declared that a comprehensive framework had been developed to address the issue. Through this strategy dubbed INSPIRE, Jamaica committed to implement plans to create a safe haven for children thus ending violence against them.

INSPIRE means: Implementation and enforcement of laws; Norms and value change; Safe environment; Parental and caregiver support; Income strengthening; Response and support services and Education and life skills.

A multi-sector approach was developed to, among other things, identify gaps within the present systems, so that greater care could be taken to address concerns and ensure that children are raised in a safe environment. 

What are the main steps taken already and the main challenges to end violence against children and adolescents in Jamaica?

Among the programmes in place are the School Security and Safety Policy Guidelines introduced to the public school system in 2008 with the stated objective of developing and engendering “a culture of security and safety in the leadership and general population of all schools”. There have been many changes to the types of violence and behavioural patterns and as such the safety and security department revised and updated all the previous manuals in 2015.

The SSP advocates that all members of the school community have a right to a reasonably secure, safe, and caring learning environment and such environments MUST be created in ALL schools. Promoting such environments is a key function of school managers however, we each have a responsibility and a role to play in ensuring safety in schools for the benefit of our children, and the society at large.

Among the objectives of the Safe School Policy are:

  • The reduction of violent, abusive and threatening behavior in schools;
  • The creation of an environment conducive to effective teaching and learning leading to improved educational outcomes for students and the working conditions for teachers and other school staff.

There is also the School Wide Positive Behaviour Intervention Support (SWPBIS) programme that places emphasis on the prevention of problem behaviour, the development of pro-social skills, and the use of data-based problem solving for addressing existing behavioural concerns.

In addition, there is the Peace and Love in Society or PALS (formerly Peace and Love in Schools), that advocates for the use of non-violent behaviours as a means of solving conflicts. PALS employs the five P’s guideline (physical safety, psychological safety, policy, programmes and partnerships) as a framework for creating and maintaining a safe school. The programmes are centered on classroom management, transforming culture, and behaviour modification. These programmes are delivered through teacher-training workshops and by working with the school administrators and members of school boards. School administrators are then expected to teach the students the skills of alternative conflict resolution, both as a way of life in the classroom as well as through a peace education curriculum.

In March 2020, Jamaica launched the European Union-United Nations’ Spotlight Initiative (SI) aimed specifically at addressing family violence as a major public health and development issue that has significant ramifications at the individual, community, school and national levels. Spotlight Initiative activities for schools are strongly linked with the UNICEF/Ministry of Education, Youth and Information partnership to scale up the School-wide Positive Behaviour Intervention and Support (SWPBIS) framework.

It seeks to expand whole-school interventions that rule out the use of violent discipline and encourage respect for girls and women in the school, community, and family settings.

Beyond providing education and organized activities for young people, schools are the ideal environment to challenge some of the harmful social and cultural norms related to violence. In addition, they present an opportunity to bring students, parents, teachers and the wider community together to tackle some of these issues.

What are the challenges?

  • A prevailing culture that sees corporal punishment of children as normative and appropriate.
  • Lack the awareness and insufficient resources by school and community leaders to mount a full-scale violence prevention response. This course will seek to sensitize school

There are plans in place to expose school leaders to Communication for Development approaches aimed at enabling school leaders to play an important role in preventing the expression of all forms of violence including gender-based violence.

This course consists of a comprehensive module on SWPBIS and its associated Integrated Service Delivery (ISD) Handbook, and other elements of safe schools within the Ministry’s national Health and Family Life Education programme. There is an accompanying short course – Child Friendly Schools (CFS) delivered through the National College for Educational Leadership (NCEL) and funded by UNICEF.

How COVID has affected the end violence against children campaign?

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a cut back in the in-school activities and interaction among students and teachers. As such those related programmes and initiatives have also been reduced.
  • Most training programmes have been moved online.
  • Anecdotally, some children who are more confined to home are subject to physical abuse by parents and stepparents who may themselves be frustrated with their inability to earn a livelihood or lacking the skills to help their children with their schoolwork.

Fayval Williams, Minister of Education, Youth and Information was speaking at an event as part of the Forum of the Countries of Latin America and the Caribbean on Sustainable Development 2021: Violence against children and adolescents in the framework of the Sustainable Development Agenda 2030 held on March 17, 2021

Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children