Culture of Peace and Non-Violence

half of peace,  DAR, Global Education Magazine

Spanish Version (Versión castellano)

The United Nations, a respected world body and forum for global issues, including peace and security, is once again a leader in pressing societies for the establishment of initiatives promoting reconciliation. The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization acting as the lead UN agency, is promoting the International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-violence for the Children of the World (2001-2010). The Decade’s mandate stresses the principles of non-violence espoused so strongly during the International Year for the Culture of Peace’s (IYCP-2000) but focuses increasingly upon the plight of millions of children worldwide, and the need to create and implement non-violent strategies to alleviate to that plight.

Reports of cruel and humiliating punishment, genital mutilation of girls, neglect, sexual abuse, homicide, and other forms of violence against children have long been recorded, but the grave and urgent nature of this global problem has only recently been revealed. Violence against children takes a variety of forms and is influenced by a wide range of factors, from the personal characteristics of the victim and perpetrator to their cultural and physical environments. However, much violence against children remains hidden for many reasons. One is fear: many children are afraid to report incidents of violence against them. In many cases parents, who should protect their children, remain silent if the violence is perpetrated by a spouse or other family member, a more powerful member of society such as an employer, a police officer, or a community leader. Fear is closely related to the stigma frequently attached to reporting violence, particularly in places where family “honour” is placed above the safety and well-being of children. In particular, rape or other forms of sexual violence can lead to ostracism, further violence, or death.

Societal acceptance of violence is also an important factor: both children and perpetrators may accept physical, sexual and psychological violence as inevitable and normal. Discipline through physical and humiliating punishment, bullying and sexual harassment are frequently perceived as normal, particularly when no “visible” or lasting physical injury results. The lack of an explicit legal prohibition of corporal punishment reflects this. According to the Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children, at least 106 countries do not prohibit the use of corporal punishment in schools, 147 countries do not prohibit it within alternative care settings, and as yet only 16 countries have prohibited its use in the home.

Violence is also invisible because there are no safe or trusted ways for children or adults to report it. In some parts of the world, people do not trust police, social services or others in authority; in others, particularly rural areas, there is no accessible authority to which one can report.7 Where data are collected they are not always recorded in a complete, consistent or transparent way. In particular, little data are available about violence within care and detention institutions in most parts of the world because, although incidents may be documented, most institutions are not required to register and disclose this information — even to the parents of the children concerned.

Emerging picture

A variety of initiatives ranging from international statistical analysis to action research at local level provide a clearer picture of the magnitude and pervasive nature of the problem. Data generated by these initiatives indicate that while some violence is unexpected and isolated, the majority of violent acts experienced by children is perpetrated by people who are part of their lives: parents, schoolmates, teachers, employers, boyfriends or girlfriends, spouses and partners. The following examples show the range of violence against children:

  • WHO has estimated, through the use of limited country-level data, that almost 53,000 children died worldwide in 2002 as a result of homicide.

  • Studies from many countries in all regions of the world suggest that up to 80 to 98 per cent of children suffer physical punishment in their homes, with a third or more experiencing severe physical punishment resulting from the use of implements.

  • Reporting on a wide range of developing countries, the Global School-based Health Survey recently found that between 20 and 65 per cent of school-aged children reported having been verbally or physically bullied in the past 30 days. Bullying is also frequent in industrialized countries.

  • WHO estimates that 150 million girls and 73 million boys under 18 experienced forced sexual intercourse or other forms of sexual violence during 2002.

  • According to a WHO estimate, between 100 and 140 million girls and women in the world have undergone some form of female genital mutilation/cutting. Estimates from UNICEF published in 2005 suggest that in sub-Saharan Africa, Egypt and the Sudan, 3 million girls and women are subjected to genital mutilation/cutting every year.

  • Recent ILO estimates indicate that, in 2004, 218 million children were involved in child labour, of whom 126 million were in hazardous work. Estimates from 2000 suggest that 5.7 million were in forced or bonded labour, 1.8 million in prostitution and pornography, and 1.2 million were victims of trafficking. However, compared with estimates published in 2002, the incidence of child labour has diminished by 11 per cent and 25 per cent fewer children were found working in hazardous occupations.

The United Nations in its study of Violence Against Children includes 5 environments where this violence is exercised, hereafter we will focus on the school environment to be the most interests us in this day of Non-Violence and Peace School.

Violence in schools and educational settings

In most countries, children spend more time in the care of adults in educational settings than anywhere else outside of their homes. Schools have an important role in protecting children from violence. Adults who oversee and work in educational settings have a duty to provide safe environments that support and promote children’s dignity and development.

For many children educational settings expose them to violence and may teach them violence. The public perception of violence in schools has been coloured by the media’s focus on extreme events involving shooting and kidnapping of schoolchildren. However, death and serious injuries due to violence are less likely to happen to children in schools than in their homes or the wider community.

Violence perpetrated by teachers and other school staff, with or without the overt or tacit approval of education ministries and other authorities that oversee schools, includes corporal punishment, cruel and humiliating forms of psychological punishment, sexual and gender-based violence, and bullying. Corporal punishment such as beating and caning is standard practice in schools in a large number of countries. The Convention on the Rights of the Child requires States parties to take all appropriate measures to ensure that school discipline is administered in a manner consistent with the Convention. The Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children reports that 102 countries have banned corporal punishment in school, but enforcement is uneven.

Violence in schools in the form of playground fighting and bullying of students also occurs.38 In some societies, aggressive behaviour, including fighting, is widely perceived as a minor disciplinary problem. Bullying is frequently associated with discrimination against students from poor families or ethnically marginalized groups, or those with particular personal characteristics (e.g. appearance, or a physical or mental disability). Bullying is most commonly verbal, but physical violence also occurs. Schools are also affected by events in the wider community, for example, increased incidence of gang culture and gang-related criminal activity, particularly related to drugs.

Sexual and gender-based violence also occurs in educational settings. Much is directed against girls, by male teachers and classmates. Violence is also increasingly directed against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered young people in many States and regions. Sexual and gender-based violence is facilitated by Government’s failure to enact and implement laws that provide students with explicit protection from discrimination.

From the Teacher’s Guide to End Violence in SchoolsUNESCO made ​​the following proposals to build a culture of peace to face situations of violence within educational establishments.

1. Advocate a holistic approach involving students, school staff, parents and the community.

2. Make your students your partners in preventing violence.

3. Use constructive discipline techniques and methods.

4. Be an active and effective force to stop bullying.

5. Build students’ resilience and help them to respond to life’s challenges constructively.

6. Be a positive role model by speaking out against sexual and gender-based violence.

7. Be an advocate for school safety mechanisms.

8. Provide safe and welcoming spaces for students.

9. Learn violence prevention and conflict resolution skills and teach them to students.

10. Recognize violence and discrimination against students with disabilities, and those from indigenous, minority and other marginalized communities.

Transmitting knowledge is only one part of what teachers do. They also make an essential contribution to the emotional and cognitive development of children, and play a central role in social development and change. Although some students may unfortunately experience violence in their homes, teachers can provide them with alternative ways of being by modelling constructive, non-violent behaviour and by fostering empathy and peaceful conflict resolution skills.

While teachers have a key role to play in stopping violence in schools, they cannot tackle violence alone. Because the causes of violence in schools are multi-faceted, stopping violence in schools requires multi-dimensional actions engaging all members of a school’s community in a holistic manner. Parents, social workers, community leaders and institutions must work side-by-side with students, teachers and administrators.

At the heart of the holistic school approach is a human rights-based approach to education. This addresses the right of every person to quality education and respect for human rights. A rights-based approach increases access to and participation in schooling as it fosters inclusion, diversity, equal opportunities and non-discrimination. It improves the quality of education by promoting student-centred and participatory teaching practices and by creating a safe learning environment, both of which are fundamental for learning to take place. Respect for human rights supports the social and emotional development of children by ensuring their human dignity and fundamental freedoms, which are necessary for students to reach their full potential. Moreover, respect for human rights lays the groundwork for a culture of peace by fostering respect for differences, which is critical to violence prevention. The daily practice of a human rights-based approach leads to the creation of a ‘rights-based school’, a safe environment conducive to learning where teachers and students together enjoy and fully benefit from the educational process.


This article was published on January 30th: School Day of Non-violence and Peace in Global Education Magazine

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