Parents given prison sentences for letting children play truant


A district court in the Moravian town of Breclav has passed an unprecedented verdict. It sent a mother and father to prison for allowing their three children to skive off school. But perhaps it will not be the last such court ruling, as the case of this Breclav family is not an isolated one.

The mother was sentenced to fifteen months in jail and the father to ten months, after their son had skipped almost a thousand lessons in the past school year and two daughters had missed around 500 each. That means they went to school only about once a week last year. The children, aged nine to twelve, will now be sent to a centre for juvenile delinquents. The Danihels, known in the town as rent-defaulters, have appealed against the verdict and the case has been forwarded to a higher instance court in Brno.

The Breclav town hall declared war on truancy a year ago. The town's social workers notified the police about five families where habitual truancy of the children is tolerated. Police then launched criminal proceedings in two cases after all warnings had failed. The town hall says, though, that even after the verdict was passed the situation has not changed.

As part of its campaign against truancy, the Breclav authorities have suspended welfare payments to parents who let their offspring bunk off school. So far, the amount they have withdrawn has exceeded 100,000 crowns. Experts in the field agree that money is an efficient motivating factor as for some of the families child benefits are their only income. If the children are taken away from the negligent parents and sent to children's homes, the parents automatically lose the benefits and want the children back - as in a recent case in the northern town of Teplice cited in Friday's Mlada fronta Dnes daily.

Police and social workers agree truancy is becoming an ever greater problem. The cases are usually reported by schools but sometimes police officers find children playing hookey in slot-machine bars during random searches. Criminal proceedings and putting the children in care is an extreme solution, experts agree, but we might be seeing more of it in the near future as all other measures seem to be failing.