Anyone using Prague's metro system over the past month will likely have spotted large, brightly coloured posters stuck on the inside of the doors of metro carriage. They depict, for instance, a doll, with what looks to be a childish scrawl saying, "We talk together. But not to Mum". Or a Ninja action figure, again with a child's handwriting, this time saying "I'm not afraid of him. But I am afraid of Dad".
Underneath these and other posters featured in this campaign are slogans that warn that not paying attention to your child, shouting at your child and not encouraging your child are forms of abuse. On the walls of most metro carriages there is also to be found a copy of the Ten Commandments of Child Abuse, which says, amongst other things that a child that is not encouraged will not learn self-confidence and a child that is constantly criticised will learn to judge others. On the other hand, children who are shown love, the poster says, will learn to love, and so on.
The campaign is the latest in a series created by the Our Child Foundation, an organisation set up in the early 1990s to provide support to abused children in the Czech Republic. The Our Child Foundation has run several campaigns on physical and sexual abuse in the past, but this is the first that has dealt with emotional abuse. Veronika Kroutilova is in charge of the campaign:
In 1994, the Our Child Foundation set up the Safety Line, a toll free number for children to call if they have problems at home, at school, or with friends. The Safety Line deals with an astonishing number of calls a day and, says Kamila Pavlikova, a child psychologist who supervises students at the Safety Line, many of those who call suffer from emotional abuse:
In October 2000, six years after it began operations, the Safety Line took its three millionth call.
With several campaigns on physical and sexual abuse behind them, the employees and volunteers at the Our Child Foundation feel that public awareness of these issues has grown significantly in recent years. But, says Jarmila Knight, the Deputy Chairwoman of the Our Child Foundation, few people are aware of emotional abuse and what it means:
The subject of emotional abuse is not one featured often in the Czech press, and until recently was discussed extremely rarely. I asked Jarmila Knight if this a new issue for the Czech people to deal with:
Emotional abuse can come in many forms, from children being constantly shouted at sworn at, or even simply being ignored by their parents for long periods of time. One of the problems that the Our Child Foundation faces when dealing with different forms of child abuse is, says Veronika Kroutilova, that Czech children are not aware of their rights, even if they know that something is wrong with the way they are being treated:
The fact that emotional abuse, or any other form of abuse, is not discussed much in Czech society, is, according to Jarmila Knight, due to the fact that Czechs have traditionally been very private about their family lives:
Czech parents are the main target group of the campaign, because, as child psychologist Kamila Pavlikova says, they need to be taught to identify abusive patterns of behaviour:
To some, especially those working in the field of child psychology, the ongoing anti-child abuse campaign has come as welcome news:
Over the course of the next month the anti-abuse campaign will hit the rest of the Czech Republic, and as well as the posters, the Our Child Foundation will introduce a support service for parents:
Although the campaign has been noticed by the general public in Prague, and will also no doubt not be missed throughout the rest of the country, Jarmila Knight says that there is still long way to go, that Czechs need to talk more about the issue, and start making a difference:
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