Jun 26, 2008

Sierra Leone - Sports Day Violence

The authorities in Sierra Leone have started a campaign against a recent spate of violence linked to inter-school sporting events.
Fighting between pupils has broken out repeatedly in recent months, with most of the incidents concentrated in the capital, Freetown.
It has become common for schoolchildren to smuggle weapons like knives, razor blades and bottles into the national stadium, where most of the competitions take place.
As rival groups spill out on to the street, motorists and passers-by have been caught up in the clashes.
Some have been injured and property has been destroyed.
School violence in Sierra Leone is not new. At the end of civil war in 2002, some schoolchildren who had been recruited as child soldiers by rebel groups still carried guns.
These pupils may now have moved on but two of the capital's oldest schools - the Albert Academy and the St Edwards Secondary School - have been banned from the sports competitions because of repeated confrontations between pupils earlier this year.

A few months ago, it took the intervention of newly elected President Ernest Bai Koroma to pacify pupils of the Muslim Congress school in eastern Freetown.
They had engaged the police in running battles after vandalising nearby property.
Police Assistant Inspector-General Tamba Gbekie says the violence has developed into "a major post-war security problem".
"We have therefore increased the capacity of our operations support division to deal with such incidents," he says.
In some cases, police have been accused of responding with excessive force - an accusation they have denied.
Foreign music
Mr Gbekie says the operational division has undergone additional training in crowd control and quelling riots, and do not need to use heavy force.
"We have started a new partnership with school-based organisations to help reduce violence and we believe this will go a long way to help ease the problem," he told the BBC.
Simeon Jaka, a teacher with 35 years of experience, blames the surge in school violence on new social trends and the influence of foreign media and music. "The key reason for this violent behaviour of school kids is the influence of the western media, violent movies and songs, violent behaviour of the stars."
"The kids copy these and bring them to the school environment," he says.
The emerging music scene in Sierra Leone has witnessed an increase in the number of schoolchildren composing hard-core hip hop lyrics with violent contents, and sometimes translating those lyrics into action.
The children adopt names for themselves and school clubs such as The Nigga Killers, The Death Squad, or The Assassins.
Mr Jaka also acknowledges that standards have fallen considerably in schools and that discipline is at a low ebb.
"Overcrowding in classrooms and the lack of sufficient motivation for teachers are additional factors for this problem," he says.
'Message of peace'
Some pupils have, however, taken it upon themselves to eradicate violence from schools.
Students from St Edwards in Freetown have formed the Students Anti-Violence Movement and have been touring schools to urge their colleagues to eschew violence.

Bernard Conteh, a high school pupil who helped set up the new group, told the BBC that their campaign had made considerable progress.
"We have established branches in some 20 secondary schools in Freetown and we intend to spread across the country, into the provinces," he said.
He says the group's objective is to "police" school events and ensure violence-free atmosphere.
"We don't really need the police, we are capable of turning the minds of our colleagues away from violence.
"A good number of colleagues who were notorious for violence are now active members of our organisation, helping to spread the message of peace."
Before inter-school activities begin again in September, the Student Anti-Violence Movement says it is planning a series of activities, including debates and aptitude contests.
Nevertheless, the campaign against school violence has a long way to go.

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