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Darkness at its peak: Children Tend to Commit Suicide in Tunisia

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Children chant slogans from atop a sculpture of Mohamed Bouazizi’s cart in the square named after him in the centre of the town of Sidi Bouzid in central Tunisia on December 17, 2020. Photo: FETHI BELAID / AFP

Hakim Marzouki

Media, human rights activists and civil associations in Tunisia started alarming us about the behavioral disorders that children suffer from. The situation reached a critical point as a growing number of children tends nowadays to commit suicide. Such a catastrophic phenomenon requires declaring a kind of “social state of emergency” and establishing a “crisis cell” to protect children who represent about a third of the population in Tunisia. However, who will protect and reform the rest of the populations’ segments that carry out education, rehabilitation, and teaching processes amid a dire reality across social, political, and economic levels?

A couple of days ago, Ibrahim Raihani, a researcher and an expert in the field of family and childhood, said something important about the matter in a lengthy radio interview. According to Raihani, reforming the childhood system in Tunisia, of which all indicators reflect how dangerous its reality is, starts with investing in child’s development. Several mechanisms might be used in this regard. Raihani saw ensuring social wellbeing as an important element in facing that phenomenon. In turn, social wellbeing helps in encouraging children and protecting them from weaknesses and exploitation; something that will build a generation that highly values itself.

The Tunisian researcher explained the notion of social wellbeing as working to consolidate the role of family and school in a sound upbringing. That might be achieved through reducing working hours so that parents can take care of their children away from economic and social pressures. By applying this procedure, family would be the first mechanism used in reforming the childhood system.

“School time should also be reduced. We have to solidify the friendly-school environment by reducing learning hours and creating active clubs and workshops within educational institutions. Such a move will contribute to refining the life skills of children, especially in their early years”, Raihani said.

Family is the child’s primary incubator before being the educational partner with the school. However, families face a cruel changing reality. With all psychological and economic pressures exerted, families find themselves incapable of executing their educational responsibility. Moreover, they are unequipped with the skills needed to help them upbringing their kids. As a result, families use violence while raising their children; something that leads children to have a negative esteem for themselves. This feeling is fed by the absence of entertainment and pressures of the educational system. Consequently, children either turn to risky behaviors or to suicide, which has grown in recent years. Nowadays, we can talk about a real dangerous phenomenon. In fact, the situation is not a media exaggeration as some officials claim in attempts to reduce the scale of the disaster.

During the radio interview which came as a part of an awareness campaign carried out by the Tunisian authorities, Raihani highlighted the spread of crime among children. He referred to the statistics published in the national report of childhood conditions in Tunisia in 2018. According to the report, 7,925 children were sentenced by the juvenile laws. Moreover, the economic exploitation of children and their exposure to sexual abuse increased. In 2019, directors of child protection centers received more than 17,500 notifications about such cases.

According to Raihani, children’s social upbringing is not exclusive to family and school. Rather, such a process should be an interaction between several institutions that affect the composition of child’s character. In fact, the list should include the public, society and media platforms. The Tunisian expert believes that raising children requires drawing up a participatory strategy among all parties.

Raihani noted the absence of an integrated public policy for the protection of children in a participatory manner. In addition, he called for activating the Higher Council for Childhood as the law regulating this institution was formally issued in 2012. According to him, the governance of this sector should be done through the prudent management of human and financial resources in the educational system.

Despite the efforts exerted on the legislative level and the improvements in private education compared with neighboring countries, the crisis of the childhood system in Tunisia is not limited to the supervising and working personnel of educational institutions. Rather, the crisis extends to reach the comprehensive community structure related to the family and the street. Moreover, the general tension prevailing in the country in the last 10 years have had a say in this crisis. Firmness and strictness in enforcing laws and commitment to discipline were absent. Consequently, the country’s authorities witnessed a state of laxity and disdain. Status of these authorities has declined as a result of its inability to fulfill its dues and obligations.

Here, psychologists and educational specialists confirm that the child is affected by the logic and behaviors of parents and educators around him/her regarding their relationship with the country’s authority. As children daily watch protests and demonstrations against the government, this scene full of chaos and frustration causes them to lose what can be a role model and an example to emulate. The same applies to affronts, exchange of insults and accusations between officials on television. As a result, children tend to be reckless and careless, and education becomes something useless for them.

It became evident – beyond any doubt – that a child whose father suffers from poverty or unemployment, and who sees his/her older brother and his/her neighbor “succeed” in securing their lives through illegal immigration to Europe, develops a desire to leave school towards what he/she deems as “more useful” and more attractive to a happy life.

At this point, we should come with the following question: Given the absence of the state’s and civil society’s inclusion, what will be the fate of around 100.000 children that drop out of education annually? How to address the tragic fate of children who dropped out of education in a country that was proud to have invested in education since the founding of the independent state in the 1950s?

It is a crisis where values collapse in every sense of the word. It is sad to say that a fragile group like children cannot be spared from the cruel reality that the rest of the age groups are confronted with while they are older and more aware of what is going on around them.

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The opinions expressed in this publication are those of our bloggers. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Fanack or its Board of Editors.

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