Peer violence is never justified and any form of violence should be prevented!
Every child has the right for care and respect and to grow up in the violence-free surroundings for only such surroundings support personal development of a child who becomes a citizen accountable to herself and to others.
In Ombudsman's experience, the basic problem is the fact that such behavior of children is not identified as dangerous. The often heard explanation is that children have always been acting like that, that peer violence is the part of childhood, etc. Even when the violent behavior is identified, it is expected that someone else will deal with the problem, that the problem will disappear somehow or that time will do the work so the violent behavior will stop.
The reactions mostly address the consequences and not the roots of the violent behavior. Hence, the roots of such behavior and reactions to it remain the problem of only persons involved. Only reacting with disciplinary measures without adequate psychological, pedagogical or other support does not solve the problem of peer violence. The latter has been confirmed by the data about children who perpetrated several violent actions towards their peers.
The fact that grown ups ignore the problem of peer violence is the biggest issue as it encourages children to continue with violent behavior for the fact that is tolerated by adults. The adults should understand that no reaction from their side is also a reaction as the children develop boundaries for their behaviors based on adults' reactions which are often inadequate or late.
The issue of peer violence in schools is not only of concern for the schools. The cooperation between parents and teachers is very important but often does not exist. The parents see the inadequate reactions in schools as the basic problem while schools see the lack of cooperation from the side of the parents as the main issue. This transfer of responsibilities to other parties only makes the problem of peer violence more complex.
Parents and teachers have a joint task to support development of children. They have to establish continuous communication in order to demonstrate that they have the same goal and that they will not tolerate any form of peer violence in which one student becomes the victim of another. It is the responsibility of adults to oversee children's development, to teach children from the early childhood that violence is not expectable; to recognize and adequately react to any form of violent behavior. Adults are responsible to protect the children who are victims of peer violence but also to asset and offer support to the child who is acting violently.
Victims of peer violence are often silent about their problem as they are afraid of consequences, they are afraid that they will make the problem more complicated, that none would trust them and that they would not receive assistance and support they need. Some of the victims become increasingly introvert and wait for the problem to somehow resolve, while the others respond with the violence. Specific problem is the physiological violence which is difficult to identify and report while the consequences are far reaching. Continuous humiliation, bullying, harassment etc., leaves long-term impact on mental and emotional development of the child.
Prevention and protection of children form different forms of violence has to simultaneously go in two directions. One direction has to be to strengthen prevention- that is systematic and continues education form young ages with parallel educations of adults about challenges that children meet in every day life, about ways identification of the problem, seeking of help and solutions. The second direction requires an adequate reaction with the aim to protect the victim but also to support adequately the child who acts violently.
What is of ultimate importance for schools is:
- every student has the right to education under the same conditions free of violence and any other degradation of the student's personality;
- schools should clearly define the rules of the school's discipline with involvement of the pupils, teachers and parents. Such defined rules have to be applied at all times and should be obligatory for all;
- parents and teachers have to be accountable for continuous oversight and prompt reaction in all cases of peer violence and children have to be hold accountable for respect of the rights of others and respect of diversities.
Every child has the right to be protected from any form of violence, harassment or neglect and there is no reason for the child to suffer violent behavior from anybody. In addition, there is no reason for justification when there is a lack of adults' reactions to protect the child.
International Day of Prevention of Peer Violence is celebrated every last Wednesday in February with the aim to raise awareness about the problem of peer violence and far-reaching consequences that violent behavior has for the development of the child. This Day also points out necessity to develop systematic measures which will secure fulfillment of the right of the child on protection from any form of violence.
The Institution of Ombudsmen for Children marked this year's Day of Prevention of Peer Violence with workshops grassed for primary and secondary schools' students and teachers in Banjaluka, Doboj and Foca. These workshops are integral part of the project that the Institutions implements in order to prevent and combat peer violence in schools in the Republic of Srpska.