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Tuesday, 25 June, 2002, 14:23 GMT 15:23 UK
Children aware of NI sectarian symbols
Children as young as three are able to spot symbols as being linked to either loyalist or nationalist cultures, according to a report.

The findings are contained in research carried out by academics at the University of Ulster for Northern Ireland's Community Relations Council.

The report, Too Young to Notice? The Cultural and Political Awareness of Three to Six-Year-Olds, is a study of the attitudes and prejudices of pre-school children.

By the age of six, 69% of them can identify flags and parades as belonging to one side or the other.


The fact that the family and local community have an influence on the attitudes of young children is obvious

Dr Paul Connolly

Cultural differences become more noticeable after the children have started school.

The report recommends encouraging children from three upwards to experience different cultures, and to understand the negative effects of sectarian stereotypes and prejudices.

Written by the University of Ulster's Dr Paul Connolly, Professor Alan Smith and Berni Kelly, the report is based on data from interviews of 352 children drawn from across the province.

'Child abuse'

Secretary of State John Reid described the report as "deeply depressing".

Dr Reid accused adults who encouraged bitterness and hatred of "a form of child abuse".

One of the report's findings was that Catholic children were twice as likely to state that they did not like the police compared to Protestant children at three years of age.

Protestant children were twice as likely than their Catholic peers to prefer the Union Flag than the Irish tricolour flag.


I will not teach my children to hate, but to be proud of who they are

IDM, Northern Ireland

To read more of your comments, click here

Catholic three-year-olds were again nearly twice as likely to say that they did not like Orange Order marches compared to Protestant three-year-olds.

Overall, just over half of all three-year-olds were able to demonstrate some awareness of the cultural/political significance of at least one event or symbol.

This rose to 90% of six-year-olds.

The children's responses were analysed to identify any explicitly sectarian and/or prejudiced comments that they may have made about the other main religious tradition.

"In some ways, the fact that the family and local community have an influence on the attitudes of young children is obvious - especially when we consider events such as those surrounding the Holy Cross Primary School," said Dr Connolly.

Orange Order parade
Orange Order: Catholic children said they did not like Orange marches

"However, it does highlight the fact that we cannot simply expect schools to solve the problem alone.

"Unless we can develop community relations strategies with children that also include the family and local community then they are going to be of very limited success.

"As regards school, the most significant finding from the study is the rapid rate of increase in the proportions of children making sectarian comments by the ages of five and six."

The report also recommends nurseries and schools should find ways of engaging and working closely with parents and the local community and, where appropriate, connecting with community relations and cultural diversity initiatives in the wider community.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Dr Paul Connolly, report's author
"Children will pick up whatever's around them"
BBC NI's Julian Fowler:
"The report recommends that sectarian stereotypes are challenged"

Talking PointTALKING POINT
NI children
Are they learning to hate too young?
See also:

14 Apr 00 | N Ireland
13 Nov 01 | N Ireland
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