In an interview with ForUm presidential envoy on children's rights Yuri Pavlenko spoke about children's rights and their observances, as well as possible consequences of school conflicts.
- Yuri, does the problem of child abuse really exist in schools nowadays?
- Unfortunately, the biggest problem in kindergartens, schools and foster homes is child abuse by other children, teachers or managers and technical staff. The number of complaints grows every day.
Any child abuse, physical or emotional, is prohibited by law. The state guarantees children the protection from violence, mistreatment, neglect or any form of exploitation by parents, guardians, teachers, other people. The head of an educational institution is responsible for life and health of children.
At the same time, we have to admit that the work system of educational institutions, especially foster homes, is built on the principle of suppression of facts and conspiracy of silence. I had cases when adults tried to lay blame on a child, making him responsible for a conflict. We do react to complaints, but it is so difficult to investigate and find the truth, when the whole staff of this or that educational institution cover each other or deny any involvement. There was a case in Cherkassy regions, when after a conflict with the school director, a 12-year-old boy committed suicide. The investigation proved the fact of conflict between the child and teachers, as well as the guilt of the director. The adults will be punished, of course, but it won't bring the boy back.
The society must strongly oppose child abuse, as the consequences of such violence are devastating for a child - inferiority feeling, depression, possible suicide.
- Is there any statistics of such cases?
- According to the survey, held in 2012, every tenths child complains about parents' abuse, every twelfth child suffers mistreatment by his peer, every twentieth child - by teachers. Moreover, children say that school environment is more conflict than family.
- Is there a possibility to change the situation?
- The third part of respondents does not get information about their rights to be protected from abuse. A child, who does not know his rights, is more vulnerable in the outer world. Parents and teachers must teach children to know their rights and to use them. Moreover, school and family institutions should stop shifting responsibility on each other.
Nobody doubts that conflicts in schools must be solved with minimal negative consequences for children and that there must be a mediator in schools to harmonize conflicting parties. We have already appealed to the Education Ministry with a proposition to introduce mediation programs in every school of Ukraine. This program has proved to be useful in several regions, and school mediation has already become an obligatory form of work with children is some schools.
-What is mediation?
- In some schools of our country there are school services engaged into settlement of conflicts, which is called school mediation. The goal of such programs is to facilitate resolving disputes between two pupils or small groups, changing the way students understand and resolve conflict in their lives. Changes include improved self-esteem, listening and critical thinking skills, and school climate for learning, as well as reduced disciplinary actions and less fights. The coordinator of the program is usually a teacher, school psychologist or social worker.
In my opinion, this program is effective in solving the problem of violence at schools. As an example, the education department of Bila Tserkva city of Kyiv region reports that this program has helped to reduce the number of conflicts and fights at schools by 80% and the number of suspensions of pupils by 75%.
- But we already do have people of such professions at schools.
- Yes and no. Officially, schools have social teachers and psychologists among the staff, but in practice, these specialists work as secretaries of directors or do not work at all, existing only on the paper.
- You say t hat children appear in conflict situations not only outside, but also in families. How grave is the situation and what are the reasons?
- Indeed, rights of children are often violated in families. According to UNICEF representative office in Ukraine, 40% of parents believe it possible and even necessary to apply physical punishment as the main method of education. At the same time, abusing their children and often not realizing this, parents do not tolerate violence towards their children by the third party (teachers or peers).
The main reason of family conflicts is absence or deficit of communication between parents and a child. Children try to fill a gap with TV, internet, computer games, which do not always give positive and useful information. Without parental love, children grow moody, vulnerable and mentally unstable. Recent survey proves that proper communication between parents and children on important and vital subjects happens very rare: 72% of children talk to their parents not more than an hour on working days, and 55% - less than an hour on weekends. Adults must sit and think about these figures, to revise the rules of communication and to think about proper organization of child's leisure hours.
- But you know that it is not so easy to organize properly leisure ours of children. In big cities, it is somehow resolvable, but all interesting clubs and sections cost money, while in small towns there are no places for children to go after school at all.
- Indeed, the problem exists, and the situation with organization of leisure hours for children has not improved much. According to the results of a survey, 70% of children want to be engaged into out-of-school education, but only 40% of children have a possibility to do it.
The demand for sport sections and various art clubs exceeds the supply. The demand for photography classes, for example, exceeds sevenfold the real supply. Children do want to attend vocal classes, sport sections, music lessons. For many children it is not possible due to high costs, for others - due to absence of such classes in their native towns or villages.
To develop the system of out-of-school education, the President of Ukraine has announced that the year 2013 will be the Year of children's crafts. I am convinced that the state should not only provide a possibility for children to study in nonschool institutions, but also to motivate other children to do such activities, to create all necessary conditions for realization of creativity of our children. I am sure the year 2013 will be significant for this issue.
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