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Jamaicans in Diaspora Call on Individuals, Families, Communities and the Nation-State to Protect our Most Precious Resource: Our Children

NEW YORK – In view of the rash of recent violence targeting children, members of the Jamaican diaspora in the United States have issued a call to individuals, families, communities and the nation-state to pay attention to this hyper-debilitating twist in the culture of violence that permeates the island nation. Jamaicans abroad affirmed today’s action in Kingston, undertaken by concerned individuals and organizations, to demand remedies to the mushrooming problem of child violence.

The NE USA Jamaican Diaspora applauds the concerned Jamaicans who met for a march and vigil in Kingston today, a day on which the world marks the International Day for the Prevention of Child Abuse. November 19 is also the eve of Universal Children’s Day, a commemoration first enshrined by the United Nations General Assembly in 1954. November 20 is also the anniversary of the UN General Assembly’s adoption of the Declaration of the Rights of the Child in 1959. In 1989, the UN moved to structure the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which has been ratified by 191 states, including Jamaica in 1991.

Article 6 of that Convention states that 1) States Parties recognized that every child has the inherent right to life, and 2) States Parties shall ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child. As a ratifying state, Jamaica has established its legal responsibility for the protection and support of all of its children. But beyond the national sphere, Jamaicans should remember all of the imperatives that shape our investment in the protection and nurturing of our children.

As Jamaicans, we must take a critical look at ourselves and our society and own the history of violence that has been our lot for generations. Who among us cannot identify a child violated physically, sexually, verbally or emotionally? Who among us cannot identify a child who has been incested, neglected, abandoned, maimed, or even killed? Who among us cannot identify a child exploited for her labor? Who among us cannot identify a child who has not had a chance to live up to his true potential? Given that the many of us have direct membership in this club and the majority of us have membership by association, it is incumbent on all of us take responsibility for naming and routing out violence against children.

As a society with its roots in the abominable institution of chattel slavery, it was largely on the backs of children and young adults that the profiteers built their wealth. Our unnamed fore-parents were often themselves only children when they were ripped from their societies of origin to comprise the laboring forces in Jamaica and other parts of the slave-holding Atlantic. These children produced significant riches for the owning class. And it was often these children who resisted the interruption of their freedom by performing covert and overt acts of rebellion. It was often these children who asserted their right to the full expression of their humanity. Our very lives are a testament to the yield of their efforts.

As a largely Judeo-Christian society, there are innumerable references to children in that code book that grounds many of us, the Bible. Many of us are familiar with Isaiah 11:6 which reads, “… and a little child shall lead them.” We generally take this to mean that children are our salvation. Further, we see children as embodying the innocence and lack of guile necessary for our transformation from being outcast sinners to membership in the beloved community.

Our folk culture too warns against violence against children. Those of us who grew up in rural Jamaica can remember the proscriptions against the goat that eats her young. As individuals, families, communities and a nation that fails to frame proactive measures to stem the tide of violence against children, we are akin to the goat that eats her young. If we fail to act, we are rewriting the very conventions that have organized our culture for centuries.

Those of us in the North American diaspora are seeing the fruits of this pervasive violence manifest in a society that upholds the laws protecting the rights of children. In the New York metropolitan area, a significant share of the children in foster care are children of Jamaican and Caribbean families. These children are often taken into the protection of the state due to emotional, physical and sexual exploitation and violence perpetrated by parents and other adult family members. Many of us re-root ourselves in the United States and recognize that in order to flourish in the country of settlement, we need to observe the laws and conventions of the new society. However, in the private sphere of our lives, we arrogantly hold on to many archaic practices. We fail to recognize that as we do willingly in the public sphere of our lives, so too must we interrogate our private practices. We must ask the questions: Are these practices holistic? Will they yield us the outcomes we desire? Will these practices keep our children in our homes and in our communities? Will our practices support our children’s growth and development as stable and productive citizens?

As Jamaicans, we must recognize that violence against children is a pock that mars the proud faces we like to parade in the world. During the recent Beijing Olympics, as the athletes grabbed their various medals, most of us basked in the international attention that their bright beacons shone our way. But how shocked would we have been if one of these Olympians had used that international platform to decry domestic violations of human rights within their nation as others have done on various occasions. What if one of the Olympians had used that stage to talk about how their age peers were living circumscribed lives because of the un-abating violence in our society? We must recognize too that by not securing the lives of children, we project a false self to the world. And worse, we fail to secure our very future.

Jamaicans on island and in diaspora must join the crusade to protect the lives and possibilities of our children. We must embrace modernity and one of its foundational creeds, that is the protection of the rights of individuals. As Jamaicans, our national ethos is one that suggests if we can dream it, we can do it. Let us dream a Jamaica that is predicated on the idea that all individuals should have full access to life, liberty and a quality life. And then let us roll up our sleeves and craft this noble and necessary vision together.

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