Battered boys - Research links harsh punishment to crime levels
By Avia Ustanny, Gleaner Writer
Jamaica Gleaner, January 11, 2004

JAMAICAN PARENTS and caregivers are battering their boys in the form of harsh punishment to the extent of sending many of them to the hospital, and this abuse is being linked to rising levels of crime and violence nationally.

Research published by the Health Promotion and Protection Division of the Ministry of Health reveals that boys are treated with disproportionate harshness and deliberate neglect at home.

The Ministry's research, released in the December edition of JA People, a newsletter of the Social and Manpower Planning Division, Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ), connected the pattern of male involvement in crime to this social practice.

It quoted a survey which shows that, at home, an average 84 per cent of all the children (85 per cent of the boys and 82 per cent of the girls) reported being beaten with an object. In addition 7.6 per cent of those surveyed (9.0 per cent of the boys and 6.3 per cent of the girls) reported being kicked, bitten or beaten up.

Other research shows that boys are more likely to receive injuries, sending them to the accident and emergency units of the island's hospitals. According to information released by the Child Development Agency, in 2002, there were 2,183 violence-related injuries involving children in nine accident and emergency units across the island, 70 per cent involving the use of a sharp or blunt instrument and 18 per cent involving the use of bodily force and guns. Of this number, two times as many males than females exhibited injuries from sharp instruments. The injuries were inflicted by parents and other caregivers.

Alma Bailey-Morris, senior social worker and team leader with the Child Development Agency (CDA), said that in 2003, in Kingston, one eight-year-old male was rescued from the home of his father where he had been beaten severely and repeatedly with electric wires for disobeying him and going to gaming halls.

The eight-year-old male was admitted to the Bustamante Hospital for Children where he was treated for five days and then sent to live with an aunt.

According to Mrs. Bailey-Morris, especially in the inner city, boys are expected to require tough treatment. "Man is man. They are also expected to fill the dual roles of defending their family and the community," she said.

Mavis Stewart, principal social worker of the CDA, told The Sunday Gleaner that the problem was that "people punish children as a consequence of their own frustrations. When they do that they tend to go overboard."

Dr. Ganesh Shettey, child psychiatrist employed to the Child Guidance Clinic in the Corporate Area, said that he was aware of boys routinely physically abused by those in their home environment. He told The Sunday Gleaner that those young males who show up in the accident and emergency units of the island's hospitals may be far less than the actual size of the problem.

"Because of the tolerance we have to physical abuse, many times there are incidents resulting in scarring which doctors never see. When questioned, the answer is 'Mommy or Daddy beat me,'" he noted.

He said that the earlier the age and the more prolonged the punishment, the more likely the young male is to develop a mind framed by violence. "He can't trust anyone, the world is dangerous and physical abuse is a part of life, are some of the lifelong attitudes that such a child might develop."

The youngest of children display signs of abuse in sulking, tearfulness and miserable anxiety. In the more severe cases there is post-traumatic stress syndrome, depression and other phobias, Dr. Shettey stated. "Boys, especially, will become more defiant and develop the attitude that the way to resolve differences is to physically threaten or assault.

"There is a significant contribution of social factors and socialisation in terms of long-term outcomes many are turning out to be violent," the psychiatrist told The Sunday Gleaner.

Many girls experience the same kinds of abuse but they respond differently. Explaining the reason for that, Dr. Shettey said, biologically and psycho-socially, girls are more inclined to nurture and have less propensity to violence than boys.

In the Jamaican society, he said, there is also the impact of "modelling" where boys become bad men and gunmen. Girls on their part, may become "worthless" entering into partnerships with the criminally inclined.

The most recent statistics indicate that males account for 98 per cent of the 3,364 persons arrested for major crimes in 2002. Fifty-five per cent (1,860) of those arrested were young males less than 25 years of age. Among the 2,193 new admissions to correctional institutions in 2002, 32 per cent or 625 were under 25 years of age and 83 per cent (1,833) were male.

In school, boys are at greater risk, the research also shows. Corporal punishment was identified as a risk factor for school aggression, as 75 per cent of children (80 per cent boys and 70 per cent girls) reported a lifetime prevalence of being beaten with an object.

From the most recent Caribbean Youth Health Survey done, data reveals that 15 per cent of students carried a weapon to school all the time. The weapon most often carried was the knife (14 per cent of boys vs. one per cent girls). The study also showed that students who report school difficulties as a result of reading problems were significantly more likely to fight with a weapon.

It was also showed that extreme anger is commonly experienced in teenagers, connecting this also with trends in male violence. Four per cent of younger teens and nine per cent of older teens reported extreme rage, 35 per cent thought about killing someone 'some of the time', while 5.3 per cent of students reported thinking of killing someone "almost always'. Those students who report feeling 'extremely angry' are three times more likely than others to be involved in violence.

Meanwhile, the CDA's executive director, Alison Anderson, noted that, in an effort to counteract the effect of negative socialisation in the home, the Ministry of Health is attempting the develop a solution to the problem.

Information from the Ministry itself states that the target group of their intervention will be the early childhood years; that is, at the pre-school and primary school level.

The focus, it was said, will be on building resiliency at the individual, family and community levels. Successful interventions will require the use of tools to engage young males in violence prevention activities, it was stated.

* Information source: 'Violence Prevention - The Need for Male focus', by Dr. Elizabeth Ward in JA People, December 2003, a newsletter of the Social and Manpower Planning Division Planning Institute of Jamaica.

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