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Racial Prejudice of Children in Cyprus

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This section will review literature relevant to the topic of study. Some of the issues that are considered include the school system in Cyprus, contextual analysis of the socio-political situation under which racism has flourished in Cyprus, racism within the context of pre-school children, Cyprus’ legal framework on racism and the extent to which the government has taken steps to combat racism in pre-school children.

Definition of Racism

Racism defines the belief that congenital differences among human beings determine their cultural or individual success. Racism also grounds on the idea that one’s race is superior. Therefore, people from one race consider themselves to have a right to rule over the others.

According to the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination, ratified in 1965, racial discrimination concept is extended in meaning and defined in the following way: ”Racial discrimination would involve all acts of distinction, restriction, exclusion, and outright preference with the consideration of an individual’s race, descent, color, ethnic or national origin. This is done with the aim of skewing the recognition, enjoyment and exercise of the fundamental human rights and freedoms among individuals in the political, economic, social, and cultural or any other field of public utility.”

The above definition accentuates two aspects of racism. One that racism is based on not only how an individual looks (color) but also his/her descendants, nationality or ethnicity. Secondly, racial discrimination includes inhibition of a group to enjoy their rights, which run the whole gamut of the human life, and includes social, political, economic, and cultural aspects.

In essence, racism is based on the erroneous belief that one group of people due to their supposed biological superiority, seek to have socio-political power over the other group that is considered inferior, thereby dominating the latter economically.

History of Racism

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According to Encyclopedia Britannica, racism is viewed to be as old as man is. It dates back to one of the first families in the Bible of Noah and his three sons Shem, Ham and Japheth. According to the Talmud Babylonian text that chronicles some of the most ancient accounts of Judaism, Ham is seen as the ancestor of Africans who are cursed and consigned to a life of less privilege compared to other races. This is because of Ham’s sin of looking at his father’s nakedness. Lewis (1992) postulates that Aristotle pitched the superiority of Greeks over non-Greeks. He believed that the former were naturally free whereas the latter had a propensity to being slaves, which was an emblem of weakness in ancient times.

During the renaissance and medieval ages, the Arabs who travelled from the Orient to spread Islam and expand trade practiced racism by enslaving dark-skinned Africans, who they believed to be inferior. Reilly et al. (2002) posit that although the Holy Quran does not expressly endorse slavery, the pro-slavery Arabs used the text in the Holy Quran that authorizes them to treat those they take captive in conquest wars as slaves. This made them use black Africans as spoils of war or booty, as referred to in the Quran 33:50. However, Lewis (1992) notes that racist practices from elite Arabs were not limited to black skinned people. It was also directed at fairer skinned people like the Caucasians, Turks and Europeans.

In Europe, the earliest historical practices of racism can be traced back to the times of Spanish aristocracy. They introduced the concept that members of the aristocracy were blue-blooded, not red-blooded like the dark skinned people (Lacey, 1983). Anti-Semitism has been manifested in Europe although Foucault argues that there has been an evolution of this discourse. He says that this has moved from the early days of simply being a political and xenophobic discourse to one that has sought to confront and address the social aspects of this form of racism since that time. Nevertheless, the murder of approximately 6 million Jews in concentration camps in Austria, Austwitz, points to the peak point in anti-Semitism in Europe.

The advent of the 20th Century shows many efforts to combat racism in the form of slavery by seeking its abolition especially as practiced by various colonial powers and Arab traders from the Orient. Key figures in this anti-slavery movement included William Wilberforce.

The American Civil Rights Movement came to the fore in the 20th Century as a protest against long running racial segregation and meted out on Black Americans who had come to the New World by the way of slavery from West Africa. Some of the most prominent names that championed for the cause of the African Americans include Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King.

Contextual Analysis of Racial Prejudice on Pre-School Children in Cyprus

Generally, Cyprus is beelieved to be racially sensitive and emotive society, compared to other countries in Europe. Racial violence and xenophobic attacks are prevalent in the country. Racism in Cyprus is rooted in the migration policies tat were practiced in the 1970s (Oberhuemer, Schreyer, & Neuman, 2010). The economic boom, which pushed up the demand for labor, forced immigrants to come to Cyprus since the local population could not meet these demands (ENAR 2011). The ECRI (2011) report estimates that about 140,000 people do not belong to the ethnic Greek Cypriot majority. Approximately 30,000 illegal immigrants may unlawfully entered into Cyprus and are not officially registered.

A fault line that separates Cypriots and non-Cypriots usually defines the racial rivalry. A lot of those who undergo this racial discrimination are migrants, mostly of Turkish descent, who have come to Cyprus to pursue employment opportunities.  However, other groups of migrants like the Roma, Armenians, Latins, Maronites and Potian Greeks also face racial attacks (ECRI, 2011). Therefore, the acts of racial disaggregation are spread on children of the immigrants.

The Office of the Ombudsman, which is charged with coordination efforts to combat racism in Cyprus, works in tandem with the Equality Authority and the Anti-Discrimination Body. These organizations have faced a myriad of challenges in the performance of this mandate (Chowdhury & Kassimeris, 2011). One key challenge is systemic weaknesses especially on the part of the police, to record and prosecute racial offenders. This has encouraged the entrenchment of these acts against immigrant minorities. According to ENAR (2011), the police also accomplices in the perpetuation of racial attacks, which makes them hesitant in combating the same. The absence of an elaborate and efficacious monitoring mechanism to track the commission of racial crimes and the way the offenders are dealt with further compromises the progress towards combating this instead.

ECRI (2011) identifies four broad areas where racism takes place mostly. These are administration of justice, health, education, housing and employment.

The education system in Cyprus is divided into four key stages. These are pre-school, primary, secondary and tertiary. All these stages have different aspects, which make them unique. For instance, the pre-school stage is divided into three components namely Public Nursery Schools, Communal Nursery Schools and Private Nursery Schools. Whereas the Public Nursery Schools are operated by the Ministry of Education and Culture, parents’ associations or community organizations run the Communal ones, but they are still registered with the Ministry. On the other hand, private entrepreneurs operate the Private Nursery Schools, but their curriculum has to be approved by the Ministry. 

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ECRI (2011) points out that there has been a number of steps taken in the elimination of racial prejudice against pre-school children, in Cyprus. These include adoption of multi-cultural education, which grants opportunities to children from minority backgrounds to access the same education for their children of Greek-Cypriots and reinforcement of teacher training to enhance the quality of teachers deployed to teach in schools where children of minority immigrants are enrolled. This has been tailor-made to ensure these teachers are given in-service trainings on teaching Greek as a second language to these pre-school children from migrant parents.

Racial discrimination against pre-school children used to take place by the way of denying teir opportunities to access education subsidized by the government. This used to happen in all the three types of pre-school institutions named above. However, meaningful progress has been made towards the provision of free access to education, especially for Turkish-Greeks both in private and public pre schools.

In spite of this, ECRI (ibid) lists a number of racially segregative practices that are still taking place against pre-school children. Noteworthy is the extremely high concentration of children from Roma and Turkish backgrounds in some schools. Quality in terms of content delivery is compromised because of the low Teacher: Pupil ration. The other attendant problem to this is the denial of these children the opportunity to interact with children from other socio-cultural backgrounds which would wholly prepare them for the diverse society they are expected to grown up in. There are also children of Roma background in Polemidia Housing Scheme who have not being supported to access basic education, which is an infringement on their right to education. The lack of an integration policy especially for migrant workers exposes them to labor market abuses like undue termination of their jobs (Weir, 1952). This affects their children who attend pre-school because in case of deportation or sudden loss of employment, the children usually have to relocate with the parent, which disrupts the children’s environment and learning.

Policy, Legal and Institutional Framework in Combating Racial Prejudice of Pre-School Children

The Constitution of Cyprus, enacted in 1960 has a provision that annuls racial discrimination. However, this is clawed back by a rider, which limits this to only Greek and Turkish Cypriots. The Office of the Ombudsman is the one charged with the primary mandate of combating all forms of racial discrimination in Cyprus.

In 2000, the European Union adopted the Race Equality Directive, which was a response tto the Amsterdam Treaty enacted earlier in 1997. It obliges all its members to take steps towards combating all forms of discrimination including racism. Cyprus is a signatory to this accord. Although Cyprus is a signatory, it has not duly implemented all the provisions of this agreement. This has raisen questions about the commitment of member states to this collective legal framework.

There are also a number of provisions in the penal code meant to prevent racial prejudice. These include public expression of racial hatred, participation in organizations that promote racial discrimination and public expression of racially insulting. Nevertheless, there seems to be hesitancy on the part of the Cypriot authorities to use these provisions.

Trimikliniotis & Demetriou (2010) assert that the Cypriot government has been hesitant to enact the following three key conventions, which will compel it to make broader changes in dealing with the problem of racism. The three conventions include the European Convention on the Legal Status of Migrant Workers, the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families and the European Convention on Nationality. This is in view of the fact that many pre-school children facing racial prejudice usually enter Cyprus with their parents who are in search of employment opportunities.     

There is also a gap in the practice of the State Law Office in handling racism related cases. Neither the Attorney General’s office nor the courts record these cases in terms of the theme. They are recorded in terms of the case number (European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, 2011). However, the EU Agency for Human Rights, in its 2009 Annual Report, noted that there have been notable improvements in the Crime Reporting System, especially at the police level.

The creation of a Human Rights Office within the Police Service is touted as a step in the right direction to deal with racial prejudice, considering that there have been complaints against the police collaborating in racial violence against immigrants. 

Specific Recommendations on Curbing Racial Prejudice against Pre-school children

The following recommendations have been put forth to curb racism against pre-school children. These include preserving the right of Turkish Cypriot children to be taught in their mother tongue. This is a response to the racial prejudice meted out on them by being instructed in school using Greek, therefore granting an undue advantage to Greek Cypriots. However, proponents of the concept of integration argue that social integration requires that they should be taught in Greek since it is the most widely spoken language. In this way, they will easily fit into the wider society (Reilly et al, 2002).

There is a need for Cyprus to protect non-Greek children against the stigma that they are subjected to because of having to attend Greek-Orthodox religion within the school system. Protecting their freedom of worship requires them to have another alternative.

Profiling of areas that are heavily inhabited by immigrant children as Zones of Educational Priority and channeling more resources there will augment the effort to improve the quality imperative of education being accessed by these immigrant children. Employment of teachers who speak their native language will hugely improve teaching, instruction and learning. Besides Nicosia, Limassol and Paphos, other areas should be profiled, and relevant support earmarked for identified areas (Cyprus Mail, 2009).

Trimikliniotis & Demetriou (2010) make a case for the need to overhaul the textbook being used to teach children at the pre-school level especially those from a non-Greek background. Many textbooks have a biased perspective that leans towards the Greek-Cypriot. This is a covert racial element, which should be dealt with thorough standardizing content in the textbooks in a manner that will not segregate against preschool children from non-Greek background.

Identified Gaps

The study of racial prejudice in Cyprus has identified a number of gaps in the available literature. To begin with, the lack of a comprehensive monitoring system to track racial violence continues to impede efforts to combat this instead. There is also a lapse on the part of the Cyprus police in the documentation of race related crimes. Details of victims and the actions taken against the offenders are skimpy. For instance, in 2009, the Cyprus Mail quoted the Chairman of the House Parliament Committee on Human Rights who is reported to have said that the reason why his committee did not hand in a report is that he believes that there is no racism in Cyprus. The fact that there are no nationally published statistics on racial violence points to the institutional and systemic weaknesses in fighting racism against pre-school children. There are huge capacity gaps on the part of NGOs fighting racism in all institutions in Cyprus. These gaps are either in the form of financial constraints, government red tape, or both. These policies, literature and institutional gaps mean that there are opportunities for researchers interested in this issue to make input in narrowing these gaps.

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