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HomeBalkansTeachers, Parents Must Adapt to Address Peer Violence in Balkans

Teachers, Parents Must Adapt to Address Peer Violence in Balkans

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In a case in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a woman from Sarajevo, who asked not to be named, said the violence directed at her son began near the end of fourth grade elementary school in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“He was pushed from the bus, thrown to the ground, and punched in the stomach for the first time by a classmate, with whom my child had a really nice relationship until then,” the woman told BIRN. The school broke up for summer, but the violence resumed some two weeks into fifth grade.

Eventually, the classmate and several others wrote pretend obituaries for her son, describing him as “cursed”. According to the woman, CCTV footage at the school showed the children pretending to bury her son. She was called to the school and the principal showed her what the obituaries. “I sat down and read them, and I just started crying,” she told BIRN.

The Bosnian woman is one of 19 parents in the Balkans who said in the questionnaire that their child or children had been subjected to violence by peers.

Only 16 per cent said the violence was a one-off incident; all said the violence occurred at school. In 89.5 per cent of cases, classmates were the perpetrators.

BIRN calculated that in 84.2 per cent of cases, children were exposed to violence of a physical nature, alone or as part of “package” or other types of violence. Verbal violence occurred in 73.7 per cent of cases, while psychological violence, alone or alongside other types, happened in 68.4 per cent of cases.

Exclusion unrecognised

According to Zora Junusic, a pedagogue at Mladost Elementary School in Osijek, eastern Croatia, most of the violence suffered by children happens online, away from school and outside school hours. If often goes unreported. Social isolation of children by their classmates is particularly pervasive, she told BIRN.

“Our community is such that there is not so much [physical] violence, we mostly have it via the Internet, exclusion from groups, more social isolation of children, grouping within the class,” Junusic said.

It is difficult for children, she said, “especially for children in the most sensitive period; elementary school is the period when they are going through puberty and where they are focused on their peers and the most important thing for them is to be accepted.”

Some 35.3 per cent of teachers surveyed by BIRN do not recognise exclusion – from games, from classroom seating arrangements, birthdays or other activities – as violence.

Some 29.4 per cent do not see threats made online as violence; 41.2 per cent do not see teasing based on grades as violence; and 17.6 per cent do not see teasing based on the way a child dresses as violence.

Issues with schools recognising what constitutes violence could also been seen in the answers of parents.

A parent in North Macedonia said that when her six-year-old child experienced physical violence in the first grade of elementary school, “the authorities considered it something normal”.

Another, in Greece, whose child suffered a similar case of violence, said “teachers did not treat the issue with the required seriousness”.

According to Zorica Saljic, associate professor at the Faculty of Philosophy in Belgrade, in some cases teachers struggle to distinguish between children playing and children being violent, especially in the case of verbal violence.

“Then we run the risk of either overreacting and turning a problem that could be rectified in that initial phase into an even bigger problem, or letting it go, saying ‘It’s nothing’, and letting some elements slip through that are actually worrisome and lead to more serious forms,” Saljic said.

In such cases, how well a teacher knows their pupils can be important: “How much they can recognise, identify what is a joke or not in that behaviour, what their relationships are otherwise, of course, to talk to them about all that.”

As for violence with sexual connotations, some 29.4 per cent of teachers who responded to the BIRN survey said they do not see lifting a girl’s skirts, pinching girls, grabbing girls, or pulling them by the hair as violence; some 23.5 per cent said they do not see kissing or touching without consent as violence.

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