Parents should empower their children so they can protect themselves from the dangers on the internet, Commissioner for the Rights of Children Leda Koursoumba has said.
In an interview with the Cyprus News Agency, Koursoumba said she sees a role for the education ministry in teaching parents how the internet works and what they can do to help their children such as setting up filters for certain sites.
“We should not demonise the internet. It is a source of entertainment and education,” she said.
“But most importantly we need to empower our children in order for them to know how to protect themselves. Our parents use to tell us `don`t let a stranger in the house`, `don`t talk to strangers` but today our children can talk with complete strangers before our very eyes.”
Speaking in general about her role, Koursoumba said a lot of progress has been made since 2008 when her office first began operating and she believes it has made a difference.
A lot of work was needed to develop a culture of respect for the human rights of children as adults have always tended to believe that children belong to their parents to treat how they wished.
It wasn`t easy, Koursoumba said, to make it generally accepted that children had a right to participation, in family life, at school and in all other areas that concerned them. “We need to give them the opportunity to speak their mind depending on their age and maturity,” she says.
Koursoumba has a team of teenager advisers and after four years of operation, she said, legislation has been amended to include it as an official consultation tool.
Every year a new team is formed comprised of the same number of boys and girls, between 13 and 17 years old. “They come from all walks of society, from both state and private schools and all districts, while they also may have particular needs,” she adds.
The Commissioner says she consults her team of teenage advisers on various matters including bullying, sexual abuse, participation and education. On two occasions she has arranged a visit in her office by Education Minister Costas Kadis who has spoken with the teenagers about bullying at school and sex education.
On the issue of sexual abuse, Koursoumba has attitudes had moved forward in leaps and bounds in recent years but there was much that still needed to be done.
“It is very important to have strategies which include action plans and through which different agencies are coordinated as to what steps to take,” she said.
Time and again in cases concerning violence, neglect or abuse of children, her office has found that various departments were unable to cooperate and coordinate with one another.
“It may have to do with bureaucracy and possibly the lack of guidelines put down on paper on who should take the initiative,” she said. “Through a strategy or an action plan there will be a protocol on what to do in the first place.”
Replying to a question on the inclusion of children with special needs in education, the Commissioner said her office had studied the legislation in place, and consulted with experts and parents associations.
Koursoumba said that while the legislation adopted in Cyprus in the 1990s was innovative what needed to be done was to pinpoint what areas for improvement.
There were problems on timely diagnosis of learning difficulties of children and on how students are facilitated in the learning process, she added.
The right of access to education, she said meant that all students should have the necessary support in order for them to be able to reach their full potential. (CNA)