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When a child kills

Published:Sunday | March 18, 2012 | 12:00 AM

10 children are on murder charge; Six serving time for murder

Many incarcerated for manslaughter

Tyrone Reid, Senior Staff Reporter

During the first decade of the 21st Century, criminals in Jamaica ruthlessly murdered more than 1,500 children and teenagers. Data also indicate that a number of Jamaican children also commit murder and other crimes.

According to statistics from the Planning Institute of Jamaica's (PIOJ) annual Economic and Social Survey of Jamaica (ESSJ), between 1996 and 2001, some 629 recorded murders were committed by youths 17 years old and younger.

That same age group was responsible for a total of 4,523 recorded major crimes - murder, shooting, rape/carnal abuse and robbery - during the same period.

Data obtained from the Department of Correctional Services showed that 10 of Jamaica's children are currently jailed on murder charges while six minors have been convicted of murder between 2007 and 2011.

The number of child/teen killings between 2001 and 2010 could have easily doubled, as statistics published by the PIOJ show that 1,600 more were gunshot victims. Statistics on the number of minors serving time for manslaughter was not immediately available.

A senior officer within the penal system explained that the number of children convicted for murder could be higher but the justice system tends to be more lenient with minors charged with murder.

gruesome incident

The Sunday Gleaner source revealed that a boy who poured petrol on a homeless man, set him ablaze and watched him burn was among the number of children serving time for manslaughter. The boy was 14 years old at the time of the gruesome incident.

When contacted, Jamaica's prison boss - Lieutenant Colonel Sean Prendergast - confirmed that the number of children incarcerated for murder would spike if the manslaughter numbers were added to the murder figures.

"It would increase if we included manslaughter, and then you would get some more alarming data," said the commissioner of corrections.

Prendergast said he could not say why the courts reduced the charges. However, he pointed out that the penal system currently houses several child killers.

"We have a number of juveniles who are responsible for deaths but are with us on the charge of manslaughter," Prendergast revealed.

The head of the Department of Corrections said the society should be alarmed when a child commits manslaughter or murder and that the issue should be addressed in a multifaceted manner. He also believes the Government is trying to do just that with the Ministry of Justice's child-diversion policy and the restorative justice programme, in addition to other initiatives being spearheaded by the national security ministry.

Dr Clayton Sewell, a consultant forensic psychiatrist at the University of the West Indies, believes the country should be very concerned about the number of children charged with and convicted of murder.

"There is anecdotal evidence to indicate that juveniles have become more involved in committing violent crimes, including murder. The extent to which they do so is to be fully determined. Like other crimes, the ability to quantify may depend on the investigative abilities of a particular jurisdiction," noted Sewell.

violent society

The forensic psychiatrist added that the nation would have to look behind the numbers to see the full picture. "The numbers, though they appear low when compared to the adult murders, support the view that our society is a significantly violent one," he said.

Sewell added that the early commission of violent acts has been shown to be associated with an increased risk for continued violence. "As these individuals mature they are more likely to carry out a variety of criminal acts, especially where there are insufficient attempts at rehabilitation."

The forensic psychiatrist also argued that substance abuse has an effect on violent behaviour and referenced a study which unearthed that some children start to abuse substances like marijuana from as early as age 11.

In a written response, Carla Francis Edie, chief executive officer of the Child Development Agency, told The Sunday Gleaner that the nation was failing its children.

"No child is born as a murderer and to have one child in such a situation is a tragedy. It means that, as a nation, we are failing our children.

She added: "A child who is a perpetrator of a crime is likely to have been a victim himself/herself ... a victim of violence and abuse.