28/06/2004

Young children 'aware' of NI divisions

Young children's experiences of the violence in Northern Ireland differ dramatically depending upon where they live, a new survey has revealed.

A new research report produced by academics at Queen's University revealed that for some young children, sectarian tensions and violence remain a significant part of their lives. By the ages of three and four they are already becoming aware of the events and symbols associated with the divisions.

The research, undertaken by Dr Paul Connolly and Julie Healy of the Graduate School of Education at Queen's, involved interviews with 276 Protestant and Catholic children aged between 3-11 living in Belfast.

Dr Connolly said: "While these children live in the same city, often in areas very close to one another, they tend to share very little else in common. For some young children they tend to live under the shadow of sectarian tensions and violence while others are able to go about their daily lives largely oblivious to what is going on."

Dr Connolly pointed out that long-term and targeted conflict resolution work is required for children in areas like this. "We have found that even by the ages of 7-8, some children are already being forced to live with violence and conflict and are having to deal with the anxieties and fears associated with this," he argued. "In such circumstances it is only natural that they will begin to feel hostility to those from the other community and even to get involved in conflict with them."

According to the report, the young children from other areas that remain largely untouched by the violence are not without their own problems. While they may have very little experience of the violence they are aware by the ages of 7-8 that ‘bad areas’ exist that need to be avoided. Without any understanding, the research found that this soon develops for some of the children into prejudiced attitudes about all of those living in certain areas.

"The problem here is that by simply avoiding the issue, these young children are allowed to develop strong and negative stereotypes about whole communities. For some, these attitudes included prejudices about poor and working class people generally. Given that these children live in Belfast their ignorance of what is going on around them is astounding," Dr Connolly added.

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