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Children - Prisoners in Their Own Homes
By Ingrid Brown, IPS, 21 March 1999
KINGSTON, Mar 19 (IPS) - Nine-year-old Melvin Jones who lives in the inner city community of Waltham Park is like a prisoner in his home. He is restricted from playing in the yard or riding his bicycle on the streets. He is safely locked in his house as it starts to get dark in the evenings and is not allowed to go anywhere without the protection of his parents or his teenage brother.
Little Melvin is confined to his house because his parents are so afraid he may be the next victim of violent crimes against children.
Over the last two years, police statistics show that there has been an increase in crimes committed against children. These crimes range from rape to murder.
Melvin's parents are even more terrified now than they were a month ago following the news that two children were kidnapped and sexually assaulted. An 11-year-old boy was walking along a road in Kingston when two men travelling in a car kidnapped him. He was taken to a house where he was sexually assaulted.
A 12-year-old girl who happened to wander on to the premises was also sexually assaulted. The two were found two weeks later by the police who said they were traumatised and were only gazing into the distance.
"When I heard I said to myself this could never be happening in Jamaica," said Melvin's mother, Iverine Smith. "I am now afraid to even let my son walk to school alone even though it is not far from home. I am tired of hearing in the news that a child is shot and killed. I am tired of it," she said.
The Police Statistics Division has reported that 19 children were murdered last year, while 11 were shot and seriously injured. Since the start of the year, already 12 children have been murdered.
Overall, some 173 persons have been murdered here since the start of the year. Last year 938 murders were committed.
Of the total number of children murdered last year, 50 percent were below five years old while 72 percent of those shot and injured were between six and 10 years old.
In 1997 a total of 10 children were murdered.
Nine-year-old Shanique Williams was one of the children brutally gunned down earlier this year. Residents of the inner-city community of Waltham Park Road in Kingston where Shanique lived, still cannot come to terms with what they call the senseless killing and children who knew her are finding it even harder to cope with her death.
On Jan. 13, in the early hours of the morning, Shanique's guardian was standing in her yard when she saw three men armed with guns. She attempted to get back into the house and the men opened fire hitting her in the back. Young Shanique who was in her bedroom heard the explosion and went to another room to investigate and was shot in the chest. She died on the spot.
One resident of the community, Pauline Strawn said Shanique had recently moved to the area to live with her guardian as her mother had migrated to the UK in search of a better life for herself and her daughter.
"Since that incident a so scared me don't even mek (make) me children dem go outside to play. Me just lock them up in the house as soon as they come home from school," said Strawn.
Her eight-year-old daughter, Lisa-Kaye Hamilton who held tightly to her mother's dress as she spoke was badly affected by the death of Shanique.
"Me and har (her) used to play when we coming home from school," she said gazing off into the distance. Even when persuaded she refused to say anything else and just sat listening, seemingly gripped by fear as her mother spoke.
In recent times there have been several letters to the editors of the daily newspapers calling on the authorities to do something about the increase in violence against children.
The shooting to death of two young brothers - six and nine years old - as they sat in the street outside their home eating mangoes, and the shooting to death of a 12-year-old boy as he accompanied his grandmother to church, have caused much public outcry.
One organisation that has seen the need to help children to cope with the present state of affairs is the Jamaica Foundation for Children.
Project administrator, Cecile Minott, says more children have been calling the counselling hotline to seek help after they are traumatised by acts of violence committed against them or their friends.
"Children who witness violent crimes, or are themselves exposed to violent crimes are extremely traumatised and should get psychological help immediately," Minott says.
She believes that parents need to be more vigilant and should teach their children how to make themselves as safe as possible in a violent society.
" Parents should advise their children to travel in groups and do as many things as possible in groups. Although this will not prevent cases of shootings, it might minimise the case of rape, " she says.
And while the figures climb, many parents say they just have to hope their child is not the next victim. "I don't stop fret when my child leaves home. I don't feel good until he is safely home because you never know," says Smith.
[c] 1999, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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