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Battling bullies

Publication Date : 27-01-2013

 

What makes bullying so terrible is that it takes something full of brightness—childhood—and buries it in darkness. Bullying is a sordid reality in our schools that has caused many children deep suffering and distress. There are too many instances of children being so harassed that they become physically ill—or worse.

It’s time bullying was regarded as what it is: aberrant behaviour. This month, St. Louis University Laboratory Elementary School (SLU-LES) in Baguio City (north Philippines) has been leading the way in acknowledging and addressing the problem. Students are encouraged to speak up about and against bullying and to engage in such activities as wearing symbolic ribbons, watching useful films, and making posters on the issue. “We want students to know that disrespecting their schoolmates is not allowed in school,” said SLU-LES principal Allan Padan. This is the second annual observance of SLU’s antibullying campaign.

SLU guidance counselor Macrina Barrozo was correct to point out that “bullying is not normal and is not part of growing up”. She noted bullying’s “bad effects, among them giving a person low self-esteem and pushing him or her to rebel.” She warned that a bullied person would “eventually bully someone weaker out of revenge”.

The situation gets worse when violence is confused with “coming of age”, and peer pressure is legitimised. Bullying has become such a problem in schools that the Department of Education issued a policy against it last May. Signed by Education Secretary Armin Luistro, Department Order No. 40, also known as the DepEd Child Protection Policy, states the DepEd’s “zero tolerance policy for any act of child abuse, exploitation, violence, discrimination, [and] bullying,” and lays down guidelines for dealing with such abuse, including cyberbullying.

The DepEd issued the order after more cases of bullying came to light, including the high-profile incident involving a father threatening his son’s classmate at Colegio San Agustin in Makati City. According to Luistro, when dealing with bullying, one must “heal the aggression that’s in our hearts and minds.”

The campaign against bullying is being backed by other government agencies such as the Commission on Higher Education, which monitors incident reports and encourages the creation of student crime prevention councils in schools with government guidance. Local governments have joined the campaign, with the Quezon City government passing Ordinance SP-2157, or the Anti-Bullying Ordinance. Bulacan has passed its own provincial ordinance against bullying, which, it noted, has “reached alarming proportions”.

In the United States, bullying has become such a plague that as early as 2011, President Barack Obama spoke out against it at a White House gathering intended to inspire antibullying endeavours all over the country. “If there’s one goal of this conference, it’s to dispel the myth that bullying is just a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up. It’s not,” Obama said. First Lady Michelle Obama added: “It breaks our hearts to think that any child feels afraid every day in the classroom, on the playground, or even online.”

Last year, the US nongovernmental organisation Advertising Council led an antibullying campaign called “Be More Than a Bystander.” It was supported by TV, print and online ads, which advised witnesses what they could do about bullies, including reporting it to an adult. A helpful website, StopBullying.gov, states: “Kids see bullying every day. They want to help, but don’t know how. Teach them how to be more than a bystander.”

There’s no exact count of bullied victims in the Philippines. Most children are afraid to talk about it, but hopefully that will change. Last year, the Philippine paediatric Society started a hotline (926-6758) that connects victims of bullying with professionals who can help them—an important step in an age where bullying has migrated online. The House of Representatives has also passed House Bill No. 5496, or the Anti-Bullying Act of 2012, but it has yet to be passed by the Senate.

Both the government and the private sector now have bullying in their crosshairs. Small efforts such as SLU’s must be commended and augmented by each of us, adults and young people alike. We must recognise bullying as the scourge that it is and take concrete, resolute steps to stamp it out.

 

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