Officially, Jamaica is ranked as a country of ‘medium human development’ on the United Nations’ Human Development Index. Despite its progress, Jamaica still suffers from economic and social disparities; problems that are felt most deeply by children and youth living in extremely poor urban and rural communities. For the families living in squatter settlements in inner-city Kingston or in isolated rural communities, high illiteracy, lack of employment skills and/or opportunities, insufficient income for basic food, education, or transportation lead into the cycle of poverty that in Jamaica can often become linked to crime or violence.
PROGRESS HAMPERED BY DEBT SERVICING:
Debt servicing continues to be a major cost to the country accounting for 54% of the budget or 54 cents of every dollar spent. Jamaica has the fourth highest in the world Debt to GDP Ratio, increasing rates of inflation from 6% in 2006 to 17% in the past few years (OCA/UNICEF, 2009). As a result of such high Debt to GDP Ratio, Jamaica cannot afford to provide many of the social services that its citizens need to prosper, resulting in low literacy rates, increased violence and the continuation of the poverty cycle for many.
IMPACT OF VIOLENCE ON JAMAICA:
Violence levels are well known in Jamaica, especially in the capital city of Kingston. In 2003, the main national newspaper, the Jamaican Gleaner, reported that in poor inner-city communities.
- 80% of students have witnessed street violence
- 74 % have witnessed stabbings
- 40% have witnessed killings by the police.
Among youth aged 0-19, there were over 11,100 cases of violence related injuries recorded in Jamaica’s hospitals in 2007 and 2008, including sexual assault, stab wounds, gunshots or blunt force injury. (OCA/UNICEF, 2009)
WHY SUPPORT EDUCATION AND YOUTH:
According to the Jamaican National Youth Policy (2003), unemployment and education-related issues are the most critical concerns affecting young Jamaicans today. This is further supported by a 2008 UNICEF Report acknowledging that 41.7% of Jamaica’s poor are children; one of every four Jamaican children lives in poverty. While there have been progresses made in the area of education, it is clear that there are still some significant challenges that exist for Jamaican youth.
- In Grade One, only about 42% of the children mastered all four testing areas, while in the Grade Four literacy test three-quarters of girls showed mastery compared to 53% of boys.
- Overall performance in the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) is “stagnant” with mean scores of around 50% each year and girls outperforming boys by more than 10 percentage points each year.
- While there have been significant improvements in high school CXC exam scores over the past 20 years, scores in the core subjects continue to be of concern, with 55% pass rate in Language and 43% pass in math. (OCA/UNICEF, 2009)
Other critical issues cited in the Youth Policy include crime and violence, gender disparities, drug trade and drug use, teenage pregnancy, and the need for activities for youth. For example, almost 25% of all girls have had at least one child by the age of 18 (JNYP, 2003).
These challenges may impede the ability of Jamaican youth to complete their education and therefore, result in the perpetuation of the poverty cycle. We believe in supporting our Jamaican partners to provide marginalized youth with the opportunities to succeed both academically and in life, ultimately providing them with skills that will enable them to prosper into positive members of their communities.
The Jamaican Self-Help Programme’s focus is the children of Jamaica. Several areas that we support, as outlined by the Jamaican National Youth Policy, include:
- Promote schools as community empowerment points and safe zones
- Increase the employability of youth
- Enhance the capacities of young people to participate in societal processes
- Provide spaces and opportunities to increase participation (including through the use of sport as an avenue to foster increased participation, develop leadership skills and build character)
- Enhance cultural dynamism through enhanced opportunity for creative expression and unique Jamaican talents.enhanced opportunity for creative expression and unique Jamaican talents