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United against Prejudice and Discrimination

Children discriminating children

© UNICEF Malaysia/2011

Prejudice is learned through living in and observing a society where prejudices exist.

Children who have poor self-image are more vulnerable to developing prejudices. They may try to bolster their own worth by finding a group of people whom they can put down. An insecure child might think, "I may not be very good but I am better than those people." For some, putting down others may serve a psychological function, allowing them to feel more important and powerful than those they put down.

How children learn prejudice and discrimination

Children's opinions are influenced by what the people around them think, do and say. Even if parents themselves are models of tolerance, their children can still be exposed to other people who may not respect differences.

§ A child may observe that some adults won't associate with members of certain groups such as people living with HIV, migrants, refugees.

§ A child may overhear some people or groups put down by jokes such as those living in poverty and indigenous communities. Some children may exclude or make fun of others because they believe it is the popular thing to do.

§ A child may be influenced to name call and label particular groups such as people living with disabilities, children born out of wedlock. Some children may begin to use unkind names for different groups if they feel it will help them to be more accepted by their peers.

If no one addresses these instances of exclusion, a child may grow up thinking that this is the way it is supposed to be, and that people who have been discriminated against deserve this treatment because they are inferior in some way.

This is why it is so important to address issues of prejudice and discrimination when and wherever they occur, to point out inequities, and to let children know such ideas and actions are unacceptable in a democratic and just society.




A fixed, commonly held notion or image of a person or group, based on an oversimplification of some observed or imagined trait of behaviour or appearance. Stereotypes ignore the uniqueness of individuals and can lead to both prejudice and discrimination.


Negative thoughts and feelings towards someone because of their race, religion, social class, colour, gender, background, obesity, religion or other personal characteristics. Such preconceived judgments are baseless and can be dangerous when it inspires action against the person. An action inspired by prejudice is called discrimination.


An external representation of prejudice which is reflected in disrespectful language as well as unjust behaviour and actions towards a person, group or community. While prejudice deals with attitude and thoughts, discrimination refers to action and behaviour.





Teach Respect

Teach Respect PSA - Teacher

Convention on the Rights of the Child

Malaysia: child rights


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