To most of us, the belief that our children should have to worry about violence at school is unthinkable. Parents should be able to trust that their kids’ schools are safe, and that an environment of learning should be devoid of violence.
Yet according to evidence being released this week from Plan International and the International Centre for Research on Women, violence is distressingly commonplace within schools in Asia.
The report, Promoting Equality and Safety in Schools, documents the disturbingly frequent incidents of violence that children experience in school, on the way to class, and at home.
Speaking to students in Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Nepal, and Pakistan, the report has found that an alarming 7 out of 10 students have experienced violence at school. These statistics run as high as 84% in Indonesia. Even the bottom end of the scale – 43% in Pakistan – is unacceptable.
This violence is often exacerbated by gender stereotypes. Too often, these gender roles are normalised in students’ minds at an early age, and so too is the erroneous notion that gender-based violence is an acceptable response.
The fact that schools are a place of learning, where children’s horizons are expected to be broadened and where we believe that educators are nurturing an environment for children to be world-class citizens, makes these findings all the more alarming.
Fear of speaking out
Part of the problem is that schools themselves are often not providing an environment free from violence, fear, and intimidation. In the case of Pakistan, nearly 50% of all reported cases of violence were committed by a member of staff.
Infrastructure is also a problem; in each of the 5 countries surveyed, school bathrooms are a common location for violence, including particularly high instances of sexual assault.
Even though many children feel unsafe, the report notes that they’re unlikely to report violence to parents or school staff for fear of punishment or retribution.
The more that children are exposed to violence, whether at home or at school, the more it becomes normalised in their minds. Increasingly, kids stop reporting incidents of violence because they stop seeing it as wrong; they come to think of it as a normal response or, at least, an inevitable part of their school day. And kids who don’t regard violence as unusual or wrong are all the more likely to become perpetrators themselves.
This cycle needs to stop.
Gender and violence
'Promoting Equality and Safety in Schools' contains a suite of 24 recommendations, ranging from the introduction of curricula to change behaviour and attitudes regarding gender and violence, the establishment of services to enhance protection, and the enactment of policies and laws to prohibit and enforce regulations abolishing violence against children.
These recommendations also include proposals that teachers and school administrators must be well trained, equipped and supported to prevent and respond to gender-based violence in and around schools.
Counselling services need to be available at the school level, alongside comprehensive training and enforcement mechanisms. At the same time, infrastructure changes need to be made, like separate toilet facilities for girls and boys.
At the same time, any action needs to encompass a wider approach that dismantles the gender construction that unpins much of this violence, and which challenges the very idea of violence as an acceptable response, whether in the classroom or at home.
Every child's right to education
Every child has the right to a quality education, free from violence and the threat of violence. Plan is committed to working with educators, governments, parents, and students to enact the recommendations in this report.
At the moment, we are piloting a project in schools in Vietnam where through activities and teacher training, students and the school staff can begin to better understand the importance of gender equality.
We’re getting to work on making sure that parents, teachers, students, and legislators know that violence has no place in schools, or anywhere in a child’s life.