The Protector of Citizens, Zoran Pašalić, was a guest in a show on TV Tanjug.
This is Lijana Stanković, talking about violence in schools and how to prevent it with Zoran Pašalić, the Protector of Citizens. What has been done since the last cases of violence occurred: a meeting of the Working Group for the prevention of violence in schools was held, which was formed by the ministry, and how to teach children that in addition to their rights, they also have responsibilities, this is one of the topics I am going to talk about with my guest. First of all, can we say where the limit of children's rights is?
- The limit of children's rights is where their responsibilities begin and vice versa, the limits of children's responsibilities are where their rights begin. You have asked an excellent question. People mostly talk about children's rights. The Declaration on the Rights of the Child, which was adopted at the level of the United Nations, talks about the fact that children have the right to an undisturbed childhood, to health, to education, but the question always arises whether these rights correspond to certain obligations? When children are taught about their rights, on the other side of the board, to put it figuratively, there should be obligations that children have. They must first become familiar with their obligations so that based on them, they can then become familiar with their rights.
Which is not the case now, considering that most often, when they enrol in the first grade, they get a booklet about their rights, so parents often rebel because elementary school students do not exactly know their obligations, it seems.
- A basic thing that we often forget is that it is not only a system of education, but education and upbringing. It means that children, not only after starting school but also earlier, must move within the framework of obligations appropriate to their age, which they must learn as such, primarily so that what has been happening lately, would not happen, which are cases not only of violence, but of all kinds of, to put it figuratively, inadequate behaviour of children.
What are your experiences in previous years? Are we seeing that something is happening just now or has it been happening in previous years as well, only there were fewer recordings, fewer stories about it in the public?
- No one kept statistics on whether there are more cases now or if there were more of them before, but the bottom line is that now it is more visible through social networks, news shows, in the newspapers and there is more insistence that children commit violence, i.e. that children suffer violence. This is why the Protector of Citizens has been particularly concerned with this topic in the last few years, talking in the summer schools that we organize, and the last one was in September of this year, about what the rights of children are, but also what their obligations are, not only towards their peers, but primarily towards their parents, the school and all those with whom children come into contact.
You recently held an educational workshop. It was with students of the sixth grade. What is your impression in general in the conversation with them, how aware are they of their rights as well as their obligations?
- They are extremely aware of their rights and their obligations, and what was most significant about that meeting was the interaction between us and them, where they presented their most common problems and their views on how these problems could be solved.
What are their most common problems, what did they tell you?
- The most common problems were caused by the fact that the Internet, as such, that is, the electronic communication in general, led to the fact that anyone, without any responsibility, can not only use violence, but different content, to influence children to commit acts, from mischief to physical violence.
What is the role of teachers, but also parents in all that?
- Prevention is the most important thing here. Prevention must come first. The media mostly record when something already happens or when something really drastic happens. In fact, the beginning is the moment when you start warning children about all the risks that, primarily, communication through social networks carries, and also communication between them, primarily at home, but also outside the home, at school and in every contact that the children have.
What kind of message does it send... For example, in the case of violence in Trstenik, the parents of one boy brought medical documentation that he was legally insane. Maybe it really was like that, but what I want to say is that they somehow managed to resolve the matter in that way so that he would not be expelled from school.
- Parents have to take their share of responsibility and what I really have to say is that they have to be as objective as possible. There are many examples where parents came before the Protector of Citizens whose children were involved in some mishaps, violence, insults or anything else that is not considered adequate behaviour, to defend the children without any critical attitude towards them, which absolutely does not lead to anything good.
How do they react when you tell them something critical?
- Not only us, but when anyone tells them, centres for social work, the police, educational institutions such as schools, grammar schools and so on. A good number of them, if not all, try to protect their child completely. I recently had a case where two boys broke some windows and it was impossible to tell which of the two did it. When the parents were invited, in this case the fathers, there was a physical confrontation between them, where they accused each other of vandalism and defended their child at all costs.
Which then sets an example for the children later in life.
- Exactly. So, we definitely have to protect the children, but, to use that expression, we cannot allow them to be overprotected and not have their obligations right next to their rights, that is, they must know that they must not do.
Would a solution be to grant the status of an official to educational workers, which is also what they requested?
- This is not for the Protector of Citizens to decide, but the question arises as to who is at risk, what are all the occupations that involve risk? If we were to follow logic, many occupations involve risk, if they all had the possibility of some special protection, then, I can say so freely, we would have to think carefully not to disqualify those occupations that are very risky, compared to those that are less risky. This is not to say that the job of a professor or a teacher is risk-free. We have seen this in numerous examples.
There is also the big role of the media. How do you see that the media can contribute, for example, did it achieve a positive effect that the video, the one from Trstenik, was shown on all televisions for weeks, of course, in the context of story-problem-solution, but is it a good way?
- The media has an overriding influence here. When I say media, I don't mean only television, but primarily electronic media, the Internet, such content. But you can not only announce that something like that happened, but also act preventively. When I say preventively, it means warning about what children's rights are, but certainly also about what their obligations are.
Did you perhaps have any discussions with the minister in terms of this working group that was formed to deal with this topic?
- It is a very important question and we will deal with it. I spoke with the minister, that is, the minister for family welfare, the minister of education, of course. But I don't think we should immediately put focus on schools. Children are at school for part of the day, for most of the day, they are focused on themselves, and then, also through social networks, through such communication, they come to some conclusions that are completely, completely inadequate to what we want, which is to act preventively.
What do you think the Working Group, i.e. the system, can achieve?
- The system mainly encourages in the way that it enacts certain regulations that it implements, but it does so by connecting various actors with the ministry, that you mentioned. This work is not handled by one minister, by one ministry, but by several ministries, and they must act coherently.
He said that he initiated the establishment of the working group. That's why I singled him out.
- I have a meeting about that on Monday.
Then we'll see you after that to hear how it went. Thank you for the conversation.