The National Assembly’s Committee on Human and Minority Rights and Gender Equality and the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, under the auspices of the HUGEN Regional Parliamentary Network and of the City Municipality of Stari Grad, co-organised a panel discussion "Don’t look away, help, report - peer violence and abuse of social networks”. The workshop was held on 10 February 2022 in the Grand Hall of the City Municipality of Stari Grad in Belgrade.
MP Andrijana Avramov, who initiated the panel discussion, stressed that combating bullying should be at the top of our priorities. Speaking as an MP, as well as sharing personal experiences, problems and challenges she and her family faced and successfully overcame together, Avramov pointed out as the basic characteristic of peer violence, that the victim is always weaker. She also underlined that it is essential to understand the root of the problem, i.e. the reason why some children choose to behave in this way.
Prof. Dr Slavica Djukic-Dejanovic started her presentation with a positive example from Uzice when the girl Tara learned sign language because she wanted to communicate with her friends. She pointed out the significance of passing the Law on the Rights of the Child and reminded of the goals of the UN 2030 Agenda which place prevention of violence against children in the focus of attention. She underlined the importance of prevention, which is the only real and long-lasting remedy. She concluded that in the fight against peer violence, it is important to encourage understanding, respect for diversity, sportsmanship and zero tolerance for discrimination of any kind.
Radoslav Marjanovic, President of the City Municipality of Stari Grad, addressed the audience as the host of the gathering, pointing out that it is very important to talk openly about peer and digital violence, especially in this day and age when social networks dominate everyday life and digital violence causes public outrage. He emphasised the need for all relevant republic, city and local institutions to act systematically to preclude and prevent peer violence. The Municipality of Stari Grad will always support programmes of this kind and provide the necessary assistance to all schools to make sure all children grow up, learn and develop in better and safer conditions.
Mihreta Fejzula of the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development, said that the numerous preventive acts and procedures adopted clearly define the steps to be taken in case of suspected violence. She especially underlined the importance of timely reaction and coordination of various institutions of the system. She also cited good practice examples and reminded the attending of the national platform "I keep you", for the prevention of bullying in schools, peer or other forms of violence.
Ivan Radojevic of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy introduced the participants to the programmes the foundation is implementing within the Human Rights and Gender Equality Network of Committees in the Western Balkan (HUGEN). Outlining the serious work the institutions are doing to prevent peer violence, he cited the actions of ombudsmen in the region and the fact that a large number of their findings and recommendations concern child rights, however only 30% of them have actually been implemented. He pointed out that children today spend a lot of time on the Internet, which leads to their neglecting socializing in the real world.
Radoslava Mraovic, Principal of "Vojvoda Radomir Putnik" elementary school, reminded the attending of the successfully resolved case of peer violence that happened in her school in 2016. Speaking about this case, she mentioned the journalist who started her show in 2016 with the quote "I was killed by a word too strong", but today it is not just words, it is photos and videos too. A survey conducted at the school shows that 50% of students have a profile on a social network, a third ignores insulting messages or threats, 25% block that person, and only 13% of students tell their parents of the experience.
Mladen Stevanovic, Principal of "King Petar I" elementary school, began by saying that social networks enable many of us to be what we are not. He believes that on social networks noone can be anonymous and we should think about what a social networks profile is for. He stressed that social networks should be used in a way that ennobles us, not to belittle others. He believes that through the Government and the competent institutions monitor the situation and react well, this problem always starts with the individual.
Students, teachers and principals of elementary schools on the territory of the Municipality of Stari Grad took part in the ensuing discussion, drawing attention to the need to include parents or their representatives in panel discussions of this kind, as well as the role of the media and various inappropriate content available to children. The discussion ended with the students’ conclusions that we must not judge others for being different, let's help others, let's not look away.