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Children don't blame religion for crisis

Children growing up in the deep South where an insurgency has been raging for years show symptoms of anxiety and stress, but do not blame religion as a cause of the unrest, a United Nations survey has found.

"We are committed to raising awareness of the situation of these children and enabling them to tell their own story and to ensuring their voices are heard and their rights are respected," Tomoo Hozumi, the Thailand representative for the United Nations Children's Fund, said yesterday.

The report called "Everyday Fears: Children's perceptions of living in the southern border area of Thailand" also showed this group of children's positive thinking, that none of them expressed a biased or negative view of other religions.

The study was conducted from 2006-2007 among 2,357 Muslim and Buddhist children aged 7-17 from 56 communities with different aspects in Narathiwat, Pattani, Yala and Songkhla, where the daily violence has killed at least 3,000 people since late 2003.

One-third of the respondents do not want to take revenge on the rebels while another third wants to. The last third did not express an opinion.

Children were still physically punished both at home and school, especially at school, and one-third of these children condemned the insurgency for causing an increase in domestic abuse among their families.

"I don't want to see blood, the dead and grieving people when the head of their family dies anymore," said Sahadam Waeyusoh, 16, a child representative from Pattani, who has witnessed four battles between armed soldiers and militants.

"Yala was really beautiful and locals were willing to help each other in the past, but after experiencing the violence they don't trust each other and people are isolated," said Asela Dodotae, 14, a child representative from Yala.

She said tragic scenes are still stuck in her memory after seeing her father and uncle slaughtered by insurgents in 2006.

"I used to want to take revenge on them, but I gave up the thought after I had learned that there are many others suffering like me. I want peace to be restored because children will have full-time studies," she added.

Settasak Akanimart, Unicef Thailand's child protection officer, said the research study also offered recommendations for follow-up action.

They include promoting awareness of children's rights and child protection among civil society and all armed groups, providing peace-building education and activities for children, promoting banning corporal punishment in schools, and strengthening mechanisms for reporting and responding to violence against children within families, communities and schools.

Other proposals were setting up child protection services, designing effective programmes to address children's emotional stress, promoting drug prevention and rehabilitation programmes and designating schools and communities as "zones of peace" by reducing the presence of arms among all parties.

Settasak's team will let other children in those turbulent provinces express their opinions on the report and invite organisations, including non-governmental, international and government bodies, to listen to what the children want, and then encourage them to offer the youngsters assistance.

The conference will be held from Saturday to Monday in Songkhla's Hat Yai district.
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Research Center for Peace Building (Old) Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies, Mahidol University
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