"Mummy, mummy, I'm scared. He will hurt me... again... " Such are the words uttered by a young child during a nightmare following episodes of bullying at school. No child should ever scream out these words during his/her sleep. No parent should ever have to hear them... Unfortunately, this is a reality for so many of our children who are direct victims or witnesses of violence on a daily basis at school, which is still supposed to be a fundamental pillar of every society and a safe haven for learning...
According to the United Nations (UN), bullying can be defined as intentional, violent and recurrent behaviour against a victim (usually unprovoked) and can be physical (e.g. kicking, hitting, etc.), verbal (e.g. teasing, insults, etc.) or relational in nature (e.g. Spreading of rumours and exclusion from a group). Nowadays, one of the most dangerous forms of bullying is online or cyber-bullying since offensive material concerning a specific person can reach a wide audience in no time, doing irreversible damage to the victim.
The different types of bullying put the victim in a vulnerable position, whereby he/she is unable to defend himself or herself¹. It goes without saying that the younger the child, the more vulnerable he/she is. The Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) states that each child should be protected against all forms of violence¹. Consequently, according to the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children, "Being protected from bullying is a fundamental human right"².
According to the UN, a staggering 130 million children (one in three) are victims of bullying worldwide², making it a global epidemic. In 2018, member states of the UN have adopted a new indicator for the implementation of Sustainable Development Goals. Indicator 4.a.2 measures the percentage of students bullied in the past year by gender per contributing country.²
Bullying has far-reaching and catastrophic consequences on the physical and mental states of children, which persist right into adulthood. It is, amongst others, responsible for a decrease of academic performance and a high proportion of school dropouts, denying its victims the very right to education. If not helped and supported, the latter need to defend themselves using the same weapons as their assailants, nurturing an endless cycle of violence.
Studies show that victims of bullying tend to become bullies over time³. Most victims fail to report what they are going through and in the US, revenge (after acts of bullying in schools) is the primary factor for school shootings⁴... It is now widely accepted that exposure to a nonfunctional and violent family environment at a young age is one of the root causes of bullying². To tackle this issue, it is imperative that ground work be done to reinforce the family unit, making it a role model for children in terms of behaviour and values.
Schools are of course another key factor in the prevention and resolution of this problem. Adequate response protocols and support structures for victims should be put in place as soon as the first episodes of violence are reported. Teaching and non-teaching staff should receive thorough training on the management of such incidents. All children within a school should be made to feel safe and confident to report any violence they witness or experience.
According to the UNESCO website, schools that are not safe or inclusive violate the fundamental right to education laid out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child; as well as the Convention against Discrimination in Education. One of the priorities of this organisation is hence to ensure a safe, inclusive and healthy learning environment for all children⁵. Also, bullying that persists over a long period of time cannot occur without a support system for the bullies, be it at home, at school or in the community.
The fact that their acts of violence are normalised, accepted, excused or even worse, praised, gives a feeling of power and impunity to these individuals and encourages such recurrent shameful predatory behaviour. This support system must be annihilated at all cost and in no uncertain terms...
"A more formalised approach to dealing with toxic behaviour needs to be implemented throughout the island."
Throughout the world, decision-makers are increasingly aware of the acute scale of this epidemic and the urgent need to address it. Many countries now have legislation to prohibit physical, mental and sexual violence and support structures for victims. Sensitization and education campaigns are being carried out to prevent such violence. More data is being gathered to better understand this problem and find appropriate responses to tackle and eventually eliminate it.
In Mauritius, bullying is recognised as being a curse and most schools are already implementing a zero-tolerance policy as far as violence is concerned. However, this is not the case everywhere and a more formalised approach to dealing with toxic behaviour needs to be implemented throughout the island. Support systems should exist for victims; parents and school staff should be educated to better handle this problem.
A solution should also be found for bullies, who often go from one school to the next, wreaking havoc and destruction in their wake. These individuals should have access to education while receiving support and treatment adapted to their relationship, psychological or psychiatric problems, in an environment where they can no longer harm others. Failing that, they are at high risk of becoming violent adults, who may end up in the penitentiary system instead of becoming law-abiding citizens.
One of the greatest Mauritian educators of our time, late Mrs M. Balgobin, former headmistress of Queen Elizabeth College, once said in a family setting that she considered each of her "cateaux verts" as her own child and loved her and protected her accordingly. This sums up in a nutshell the way parents, educators and communities at large should treat their children and teenagers, in a caring, protective and loving way. This is the only way to ensure that our youth, who represent the future of our planet, grow up to become healthy adults and responsible members of society.
Let us all come together to put an end to bullying, this rampant evil...