Information by Country

Jamaica: Background

This map does not reflect a position by UNICEF on the legal status of any country or territory or the delimitation of any frontiers.
Children account for 39 per cent of Jamaica’s population of 2.6 million. Although the overall poverty rate declined from 26 per cent in 1996 to 16.9 per cent in 1999, children account for 43 per cent of all poor, most of whom are in rural areas. Integration with regional plans for children, such as the Caribbean Plan of Action for early childhood education, care and development, is high. Significant steps have been taken to strengthen existing instruments and develop new ones, such as preparing a national policy on children and drafting the Child Care and Protection Act. Jamaica has signed the Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, and on the involvement of children in armed conflict.

While near-universal primary enrolment exists, the quality and efficacy of learning and teaching are a problem. It is calculated that 30 per cent of students, mostly boys, are functionally illiterate at the end of the primary cycle. Low attendance and drop-out rates increase by age. Only 3.6 per cent in the 0 to 3 year age group are enrolled in supervised early childhood care.

Jamaica has high HIV/AIDS prevalence (1.6 per 1,000 persons) vis-à-vis the region. Nearly eight per cent of those infected are children under 10 years of age, with mother-to-child-transmission a major contributing factor. Almost eight per cent of the total reported number of cases (4,443) are among children under the age of 10. Four fifths of infected children live in poor households, and one out of four will be abandoned. Among adolescents, infection rates have doubled every year since 1995, and adolescent girls are three times as likely as adolescent boys to become infected. The teenage fertility rate is high, at 112 per 1,000 births. Sexual initiation occurs as early as 10 years of age. Knowledge of contraception among adolescents is high, but it is estimated that only 50 per cent regularly use condoms.

Approximately 22,000 children work and some 2,500 children, mostly boys, live on the streets. Commercial sexual exploitation of children is an emerging concern. Child abuse is increasing, as is exposure to and involvement in violence at home and school. Poverty, weakened family structures, weak community support systems and poor parenting are key underlying causes. About 2,000 children are in residential institutions where standards of care need improvement. Major areas of concern with regard to adolescents are high levels of suicides, alcohol abuse, acts of violence, vehicular accidents and criminal offences. The juvenile justice and correctional systems have inadequate standards of detention, placement and training, as well as insufficient resources.


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