Exposure to violence in childhood is associated with aggression in adulthood. The high level of community violence in Jamaica is likely to expose Jamaican children to violence. There has been no detailed study of the exposure of Jamaican children to violence in their daily lives. Some 1674 urban 11-12-year-old children, previously part of a national birth cohort study, completed a questionnaire detailing their exposure to violence as witnesses, victims and aggressors. Their parents completed a socio-economic questionnaire.
Jamaican children had high levels of exposure to physical violence. A quarter of the children had witnessed severe acts of physical violence such as robbery, shooting and gang wars, a fifth had been victims of serious threats or robbery and one in every twelve had been stabbed. Children reported being least exposed to sexual violence and to being shot at. Robbery was an almost universal experience affecting children from all schools and socio-economic groups. The single commonest experience as a victim of violence was the loss of a family member or close friend to murder, affecting 36.8% of children. Children's experiences of witnessing violence occurred chiefly in their communities but their personal experiences of violence occurred at school. Boys and children attending primary school had greater exposure to violence as witnesses and victims. Socio-economic status discriminated exposure to physical violence as witnesses but not as victims. Intervention strategies to reduce children's exposure to violence should include community education on the impact of exposure to violence on children, particularly the loss of a significant person, and the development of a range of school-based violence prevention programmes.