Racist abuse and bullying of young children should be treated as a child protection issue, according to a study by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC).
Called Protecting Children from Racism and Racial Abuse: A Research Review, the report strongly advocates a co-ordinated inter-agency approach to dealing with racism against children and their families. It also recommends further study of this notoriously under-researched area, and particularly in what motivates children to perpetrate racist abuse.
Racism and racial bullying are commonplace occurrences in the lives of ethnic minority children, as well as for white children, who are frequently bystanders.
The research review echoes points made by the Macpherson Report on the murder of Stephen Lawrence about the existence of racism at every level of our society.
Research shows that ethnic minority children are more likely to be bullied than their white peers. This commonly involves racist name-calling, which can have a profound effect on children despite being often viewed by adults as trivial. Isolated children are particularly vulnerable to racial abuse, as opposed to those living in communities where there are others from their background.
When it comes to racist attitudes, however, the picture is less clear. While children may see themselves as anti-racist and condemn discrimination by others, they are capable of perpetrating racist behaviour themselves. A typical example is name-calling, where friends of different ethnic backgrounds use racist names during a row but would never adopt or condone the same behaviour with people who weren't friends. This points to the high level of racialisation in children's culture rather than to racist beliefs.
Protecting Children from Racial Abuse: A Research Review by Christine Barter, is available from the NSPCC Publications and Information Unit. Tel: 0171 825 2775. Price: pound;15