PERHAPS it is a consequence of social media, which enable people to turn non-incidents into major causes for alarm, our society has become so paranoid about the safety of schoolchildren. The totally wrong impression that schoolchildren are at risk has been created by parents’ associations and teaching unions, forcing the education ministry to turn public schools into fortresses with high fences and gates that are locked during school hours.
The paranoia that led to ‘high security’ schools was manifested on Tuesday when police said they were investigating two alleged attempts to abduct children from two schools in Nicosia after an unknown man had reportedly approached a child at each school offering to take them home. On Wednesday the chairman of the parents’ associations confederation, Sotiris Christophi, said there were no abduction attempts. In one case an unknown man had reportedly asked a child if his uncle was picking him up and the child ran away. In the second incident, the man was seen outside the school fencing but had spoken to no-one.
Yet the police were wasting their time investigating abduction attempts, while Christophi, despite dismissing the incidents, brought up the confederation’s demand for having security guards at all public schools when children were coming in and leaving. “We always considered the very dangerous hours at primary schools to be 7am to 8am and 1pm to 2pm, the time the incident took place,” he told Cyprus News Agency, in reference to the “guard issue.” Predictably, the Poed union boss also joined in, complaining that not all schools had fencing and that most primary schools did not have guards during high-risk times.
The way things have been presented you would think child abductions outside primary schools were a regular occurrence. In fact, there has been one such incident in the last 40 years. Last year, a man abducted two primary school children, but that was a freak, one-off incident that did not justify the ensuing alarm and the turning of school into fortresses with guards. For decades, primary school children walked to their school on their own or with friends without abductions or anything else. The main risk they faced was from bad drivers.
Ask any foreigner with a family about the advantages of living in Cyprus and the first or second thing they would say is that it was a very safe place to bring up children. They are absolutely right, even though parents’ associations and teaching unions are on a mission to invent non-existent risks, spread alarm and turn schools into fortresses that look like prisons. A little perspective is needed.