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Call for child safety zones in Pattani

A CAMPAIGN is being launched to highlight the plight of children in Pattani province who have become victims of the ongoing conflict in the deep South, Hara Shintaro, lecturer of Malay Studies at Prince of Songkhla University Pattani campus, said yesterday.

Citing information from Deep South Watch website, Shintaro said 37 children aged one to 18 have been killed over the past five years, with 185 injured.

Calling them "collateral victims", Shintaro said both Muslims and Buddhist children were being killed and injured. Whether they were being intentionally targeted or not is debatable and depends on specific cases; however there's an urgent need to make known the plight of children in the deep South.

"Certainly the anti-government groups are responsible for many attacks, but we cannot blame them for all attacks, partly because there are many cases in which security forces are involved, and partly because the investigation in this area is sloppy. The data management of the security forces is very poor," he said.

An online campaign called "Save Patani Children" - with Pattani spelled as 'Patani' out of respect for local history - is being launched to make the public recognise violence against children is "utterly unacceptable" by any international standards.

Besides direct violence against children, harming or killing parents or exposing them to violence are also considered forms of attacks on children, said Shintaro. "There are so many [forms of] damage to children's minds," he stressed.

Shintaro said there's a need to designate safe zones and the deployment of soldiers in areas including schools, universities, clinics and hospitals so the children of Pattani "can also enjoy life like other children".

Shintaro acknowledged that education is seen as a propaganda tool, which is why teachers and children are being targeted. He said this was understood by many except Thai ultra-nationalists. About 150 teachers from both state and religious schools known as "tadika" have been killed over the past decade, Shintaro said.

"The Thai school system is heavily loaded with nationalism and indoctrination. In the past, schools were basically agents for cultural assimilation. For example, most Malay children have been prohibited from speaking their mother-tongue at schools. Violation of the prohibition was punished in different ways, including fines," he said, adding that tolerance for cultural difference was starting to be acknowledged now, though still not appreciated by many.

"The issue of Pattani has never been a very important one at the national level," Shintaro pointed out. "We can see this from the fact that more than 5,000 have been killed in the conflicts, but it is not part of national agenda."

Shintaro said there was a need for people in the region to push the government and rebels to resume the Pattani Peace Process dialogue.




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