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1800 children fell victim to crime last year

Monique Estrene has been consumed by one question since July 15, 2021, the day her late 10-year-old son Jahiem Bogle was shot in the head: Why?

The former Iris Gelly Primary School student was riding his bicycle along Curry Pathway near Collie Smith Drive in the Corporate Area, when several explosions were heard.

When the shooting subsided, Jahiem was found suffering from a gunshot wound and was rushed to the Kingston Public Hospital, where he died the following day.

Estrene is among the many families whose children are victims of crime and who struggle daily to cope with their absence.

“It’s the grace of God that is helping me to cope. Sometimes I ask God why,” she told The Sunday Gleaner last week.

“Sometimes he would come and kiss me and say, ‘Mommy, me love yuh, y’know,” the 31-year-old mother said.

Just over 1,800 Jamaican children were victims of various crimes in 2022, according to data from the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF).

Of that number, 53 children were murdered, 465 were victims of sexual offences, 371 were victims of sexual intercourse with a person under 16, 224 were raped, 281 were assaulted and 71 were victims of shooting.

Just last Wednesday, nine-year-old Nikita Noel was raped and murdered on her way home from school in Kew district, Hanover.

Children’s Advocate Diahann Gordon Harrison told The Sunday Gleaner that the statistics highlight that there needs to be a continued focus on prioritising the prevention of violence against children.

She reasoned that the response must zero in on the circumstances that expose them to violence, the locations where children are most likely to encounter violence and on the persons harming them.

Estrene told The Sunday Gleaner that there are times when she feels like she needs counselling.

“If I think about him or talk about him too much, it affects me. I really try to keep my mind busy,” she said.

The mother explained that since her four-year-old daughter recognised that her brother was no longer around, she has become even more attached to her.

“I can’t leave her anywhere,” Estrene said, adding that her daughter’s actions often remind her of Jahiem.

“I don’t know if things will ever get better in Jamaica because every day you hear that somebody else has died. The hearts of men are very wicked. We really just have to pray because we are not safe anywhere, not even in our own homes,” she said solemnly.

Family therapist Dr Beverley Scott underscored that the loss of a child ranks highest on the stress scale.

“A child has not achieved what he or she is supposed to achieve in life – maybe still going to school and in some cases, the child hasn’t even started school yet. Children are supposed to bury their parents, so it is very traumatic for parents when they lose their children,” she told The Sunday Gleaner.

Scott said in many instances, the parents are in denial long after the passing of the child, but when reality hits that the child is no longer alive, the grief intensifies.

Grief counselling, she said, is critical for parents as they move forward in life.

“In counselling, we would help them to look back at what the child has done, look back at the relationship between them, and that helps them to replace the negative memories. That is why we talk about celebrating the life of the person. We try to shift the focus from the trauma they are feeling,” Scott explained.

She said in cases where the child expressed a lot of negative behaviours or was a member of a gang, the parents usually do not grieve as much or the grief could be more intense “because there’s not much to talk about in terms of the pleasantries with the child”.

The family therapist told The Sunday Gleaner that the trauma is compounded when parents lose their only child.

“Some parents don’t have the hope of having another child, depending on their age or other circumstances, and so it is double the challenge. If parents are believers in God, they can use the scriptures to help comfort them and assure them that God knows why He has taken the child at this time as the child may grow up and what happens to them is more traumatic than having died at that young age,” Scott said.

Meanwhile, 508 children, ages 13 to 17 years, were perpetrators of 20 categories of crime last year, with assault being the most common.

Assault and sexual offence accounted for 94 and 74 of the crimes committed by child perpetrators, respectively.

An additional 38 children were found in breach of the Firearms Act, 23 committed murders, 25 committed rape, 24 were involved in robberies and 59 had sexual intercourse with a person under 16 years old.

Gordon Harrison said she was “very concerned” about the high number of children charged for having sex with other children.

“This means that the police are still not making full use of the Diversion Act, which allows them to divert these cases from the traditional criminal justice pathway once there was no force, threat or other such situation. So the typical cases of teens fooling around can be diverted with an emphasis on them being counselled about the inappropriateness of such engagement at their age,” the children’s advocate charged.

She reiterated her call for an amendment to the Sexual Offences Act as presented to the Joint Select Committee of Parliament in 2016, for a close-in-age exception to be placed within the legislation.

“This would bar the police from charging children for sex with a person under 16 where there are no abusive or forceful conditions present,” she said.

Gordon Harrison said that equally important is determining the circumstances of those children who find themselves listed as perpetrators.

“Who are their parents? What communities are they from? What is the level of social and school engagement that they have been exposed to? The answers to these questions should help with understanding how best we can interrupt this violence with a view to preventing it,” she remarked.