Jamaican children need hope to resist violence, says ex-soldier and UN Advocate
Jamaican children need more opportunities, support and hope to resist and rise above violence, former child soldier and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Advocate for Children Affected by War Ishmael Beah said at the end of a two-day visit to the Caribbean nation.
The 27-year-old Beah, who was forced as a child to fight in Sierra Leone’s civil war, and was assisted with his rehabilitation by UNICEF, met with children in districts of Jamaica’s capital, Kingston, which have been marred by violence. He discussed ways to stay away from gangs and to navigate difficult situations without resorting to violence.
“My life was all about weapons, drugs and violence,” he said during his visit. “Now I teach people to resist violence and to use that energy to do other positive things with their lives. I encourage them to see that it is possible to have a life outside of violence.”
Violence is a major threat to children in Jamaica, where 87 per cent of those aged 2 to 14 are subjected to at least one form of psychological or physical punishment. Only 28 per cent of children think their communities are safe. Children are pressed into gang warfare, where they are used as spies and look-outs and are often forced to conceal and use guns.
“Every child has the capacity to do great things,” Mr. Beah said at a presentation to the University of the West Indies. “No one wants to take up a gun. It is circumstances that push children into violence. What you provide and how you engage with children is what makes the difference. It is possible to refocus and reshape their lives.”