“Mi waan dead di man who dead mi modda.” A two-year-old boy said that.
Can you imagine? Children in Jamaica today have so much on their minds to deal with. And now, for the first time in Jamaican history our children will be getting their chance to stand up and speak in Parliament, for a Special Session on Violence against Children on November 19, the day before World’s Children’s Day.
For many adults, what those boys and girls say in Gordon House will not correspond with their image of childhood. But then image and reality are two different things. So many children have been scarred mentally and physically for life by violence – that they have both suffered and witnessed.
Some are shells of what they could be as children, others are desensitised by what they have been through. I agree, none of this should be a part of childhood, but then we need to take action!
“I see a man raping a girl and I call(ed) the police on him.” wrote one primary schoolboy. His brave action could not be more different than the 9 out of 10 adults who replied to a 2014 survey by the Children’s Registry to say that they will not report child abuse.
Marking the 30th Anniversary of the Convention of the Rights of the Child in 2019, UNICEF and the Office of the Children’s Advocate have hosted Children’s Townhalls in three parishes, organised by my Talk Up Yout team. Almost 300 boys and girls participated; and each time, they filled the room with laughter, creative performances, but also sadness.
At the Montego Bay Townhall, I asked one of the groups of children, “How many of you have seen a man ‘tump up’ a woman?” and all hands responded with a “Yes”. I know that intimate partner violence is common in our society, but it is when you actually speak directly to children about these issues that the shocking reality confronts you.
I cried at every session because the children cried and I consumed much of their pain. The session was a kind of group therapy for us all; and their collective energy will help inform what the small group of children representing them will say in Parliament.
“Every community should have an ‘Against Violence Group’ where they meet every Sunday or Saturday afternoon and discuss ways in which they can end violence completely for both children and adults. Meet with churches, get t-shirts, do campaigns, create WhatsApp groups and interact with everyone,” was just one of many suggestions or ‘fruits’ which children hung on our ‘trees’ at the Townhalls.
I hope that when Parliamentarians and Jamaicans see these children speaking in Parliament that they do not ignore them. From the days of slavery, no post-traumatic therapy has been given to our people, hence we see the pain and hardships being passed down from generation to generation.
There were some very actionable ideas offered by the children and I believe the government should decide to try at least five of their solutions – as a commitment to children’s rights. How many times do we say that children are the future, only to fail them? November 19 is a chance to start getting it right, and we must start by listening.
Talk up Yout, and every child!