Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many children in Jamaica have faced new challenges due to the changing circumstances. The closing of schools and increased time spent at home has negatively affected the wellbeing of many children. In addition to this, the lack of technological devices and stable internet connection across the island has proven problematic for children in school. According to the Convention on the rights of the child (CRC), each child has the right to be free from sexual and domestic abuse (article 34) and the right to an education (article 28). Both rights have been severely comprised for many due to COVID-19 and measures have been taken to help reduce this.
The closure of schools, which for many served as an escape from their harsh homelife, had a huge effect on children across Jamaica. The Caribbean Policy Research institute (CAPRI) in combination with the UNICEF Jamaica (2020) found that many children were more frustrated and at a greater risk of abuse since in the onset of the pandemic. In addition to this, the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA) had noted a reduction in the number of reported cases of child abuse in March 2020. This seemingly positive observation was instead reported to be due to the lack of access to reporting facilities such as schools and guidance counsellors as well as many being unable to make reports. Thus, many children who were forced to stay home or remain in lock down faced increased neglect and violence because of their vulnerable position.
In response to this, the private sector organization of Jamaica (PSOJ) in collaboration with the Office of the Children’s Advocate (OCA) and UNICEF Jamaica created a helpline for children to use in moments of distress. The tollfree line is set to begin operations in March 2021 and will connect children across Jamaica with professionals who can talk to them in times of need. The helpline will children to report cases of abuse and help deescalate situations that may arise in their lives. This initiative along with various social media campaigns and engagements by the CPFSA combats the increased convenience for abuse and neglect due to the pandemic and further creates more awareness about such acts.
The closure of schools and transition to online learning has negatively affected many Jamaican households with children. The lack of adequate resources such as tablets, laptops and phones with stable internet connections have left many students absent from online classes and unable to access material. In addition to this, some schools did not have sufficient resources to facilitate a fast online transition, hence some students are behind in their studies. This disruption in learning across the island has affected the ability of many to receive a quality education and for some can affect life chances and future success. Due to the highly competitive nature of universities and occupations globally, the need for students to perform reasonably well on exams and the effect of the pandemic on their ability to do so is concerning.
In response to these concerns, many Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) and private entities along with the ministry of education have succeeded to provide many children in Jamaica with technological devices for their education. Various organisations have made donations both to children’s homes (through the CPFSA) as well as to schools and families to aid in their child’s ability to attend online classes. This focus on improving the quality of school life for children by gifting them their own devices has allowed for many to be able to better cope with the online experience.
In addition to this, some schools, especially in the Kingston Metropolitan Area of Jamaica have attempted hybrid learning (whereby some students stay home and others attend school in person) to ensure students can receive the attention they need and the best quality of education.
Both problems concerning children during their stay at home due to COVID-19 restrictions have been challenging however strives have been made to overcome them. Although the challenges are temporary and may become resolved as the pandemic slows down, the inherent need for certain things such as a child helpline and adequate technology for all students have been highlighted. The pandemic and the challenges faced by children have brought to light the many gaps in the system and the need to continue improving the quality of life of Jamaican children as well as children around the world.
Child abuse alarm – reports plunge, potentially giving predators free rein. (2020, May 11). Retrieved February 16, 2021, from http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/lead-stories/20200511/child-abuse-alarm-reports-plunge-potentially-giving-predators-free
PSOJ partner WITH OCA, UNICEF to Launch CHILDREN’S HELPLINE. (2021, January 20). Retrieved February 16, 2021, from https://www.unicef.org/jamaica/press-releases/psoj-partner-oca-unicef-launch-childrens-helpline
UNICEF study reveals impact of Covid-19 challenges on children and families in Jamaica. (2021, January 20). Retrieved February 16, 2021, from https://www.unicef.org/jamaica/press-releases/unicef-study-reveals-impact-covid-19-challenges-children-and-families-jamaica