Minister of Education, Rev. the Hon. Ronald Thwaites, says the Ministry has a clear policy against all forms of bullying and intimidation.
He noted that the Ministry has a clear and solid guiding principle, which mandates that all schools must “provide a safe environment for persons of all sorts, of all different positions in life, to learn."
Rev. Thwaites was presenting the keynote address at a seminar on homophobic bullying and violence in schools, held at the Mona Visitors’ Lodge at the University of the West Indies on Wednesday (May 17).
The workshop, which was held in recognition of International Day Against Homophobia, was held under the theme: ‘Right the Wrong: Encouraging Respect for Safer Schools and Better Learning Environments’.
The Minister further affirmed that all persons, regardless of their religion, social background, race or sexual preference, must be treated with dignity and respect.
“We in Jamaica have a history of fighting against oppression and for human rights. It is very important that we should never reverse that struggle on any ascriptive grounds whatsoever. And, that the historic discrimination that has taken place on this or that ascriptive ground over the centuries, must find no place in the educational environment,” he stated.
He noted that society must take its guide from the principles of the Bible and the teachings of Jesus Christ, which “speak of loving thy neighbour as thyself."
“Indeed, the message of Jesus goes even further. It says that we are to love each other as He has loved us, which is a higher standard,” he noted.
In the meantime, British High Commissioner to Jamaica, His Excellency Howard Drake, said there are still too many cases of discrimination around the world, whether it is on the basis of religion, gender, race or sexual orientation.
“Our view as the British government is that discrimination of that kind is never justified. And, the fact is that Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgendered people can be particularly vulnerable to discrimination and human rights violations,” he said.
Mr. Drake noted that while same-sex relationships are criminalised in many countries, it is important that countries like Britain and Canada continue in their efforts to protect and promote the rights of all people, regardless of their sexuality or gender identity.
The High Commissioner further argued that this type of discrimination often presents itself even in bullying in the arena of the classroom and the school environment.
“Bullying in schools undermines the educational achievements for the victims and even for whole school communities,” he said.
Representative of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to Jamaica, Robert Fuderich, said that every child has a right to learn in an environment that is free from violence by bullies, whether it is by teachers or peers.
He noted that all types of bullying violate a child’s right to education, health and freedom. “It violates the child’s right to expression of self and participation,” he stated, noting that freedom from such violence is provided in the international declarations, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The International Day Against Homophobia, held on May 17 every year, is a rallying event offering an opportunity for people across the globe to lobby against discrimination and hatred against homosexuals.
By Athaliah Reynolds-Baker, JIS Reporter