Liu Bohong, a professor at China Women's University [Women of China English Monthly]
When I recently took a business trip to South China, I watched a television news report about school bullying. The reporter detailed how classmates had bullied a 15-year-old boy, from a rural family in Jiangxi Province, at a boarding school over a long period of time. The boy's parents had complained about the bullying with the teacher several times. The teacher, however, always said the boy's classmates were just playing practical jokes with the boy. The teacher continued to turn a blind eye to the bullying.
One day, the boy lost his food card while he was being bullied. As a result, he had to eat junk food. Till the boy had become physically harmed and mentally disturbed, the teacher told the boy's parents about the boy's condition. His parents took him to the hospital because he had a stomachache. During his examination of the boy, the doctor decided surgery was needed. During the operation, the doctor extracted many foreign objects from the boy's stomach. It turned out the mentally disturbed boy had eaten the objects to harm himself. What a shocking news report.
What is school bullying? It is a form of school violence — the strong bullying the weak. A wide range of behavior can constitute bullying. Such behavior includes assault, mocking, humiliating, spreading rumors, name calling, isolating and belittling. Such behavior also includes blackmailing, grabbing and damaging personal belongings and cyber bullying (humiliating and slandering people on the Internet).
School bullying is not always committed on school property. It also includes off-campus bullying between classmates. Sometimes, school bullying involves one bullies, and sometimes, it involves several or a group of bullies. Generally, school bullying doesn't happen accidentally; instead, it happens repeatedly between certain classmates. Bullies don't think they are wrong. Victims tend to remain silent, and they usually are too scared to fight back or report bullies to teachers.
Bullying not only results in long-term psychological problems and physical harm to victims, it also tends to affect victims' academic performance and development of their personalities. Bullying also affects the psychological health and development of the bullies themselves, and bullies are likely to commit other crimes. For students who fight back, who go along with bullies or who just stand by when bullying happens, their personal development will also be affected by the bullying. The worst thing, though, is school bullying severely pollutes and harms the environment of campus and turns it into a place where human rights are violated and youngsters' psychological health harmed.
In recent years, school bullying has happened now and then. Some serious cases of bullying have shocked the public and brought negative effect to society. During the two sessions (National People's Congress [NPC] and Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference) in 2016, deputies to the NPC appealed to departments concerned to give school bullying a heavy blow. In May 2016, the Office of National Education Inspection under China's State Council issued a notice to deal with the very issue. The office called on education departments, at all levels across China, to tackle the issue in a proper way.
Finding the causes for school bullying can be complicated, as they are varied and closely related to society, schools, the students and families' individual situations.
As far as social factors are concerned, the mass media, which has been developing fast, but lacking proper management, has been inundated with contents related to violence, jungle law and discrimination. Teenagers, who are weak, are easily affected by such contents, and they even follow the example of such behavior.
In addition, some bullies fear nothing, because they know that minors under age 14 are not held criminally responsible if they commit crimes. As a result, some children don't think of bullying as a crime. Instead, they think it is cool, interesting and fun. They often cheer for the bullies, and some kids even upload — to show off — videos of bullying online.
As far as school management is concerned, schools lack institutional construction and education that match the rapid transformation of Chinese society. Teachers have been failing to distinguish the difference between bullying and the playing of practical jokes. Some teachers tend to think bullying is none of their business, because bullying is about the bullied students' inability and psychological imbalance.
As far as family related factors are concerned, some parents beat their children, instead of reasoning things out, to make their children behave, and as such they set bad examples for their children. Some parents fail to communicate — patiently and on an equal footing — with their children. Children are afraid to tell their parents that they are being bullied. Some parents only learn their children are being bullied after their children become seriously injured. Some parents encourage their children to act violently because they fear their kids are being bullied.
Some students are immature and puffed themselves up with self-importance, and they tend to mix with the wrong people. Such students are not good at communicating with others, and they worship money and power. When they can't solve conflicts with other students in a proper way, they resort to violence or bullying. Gradually, they develop distorted values.
As far as I am concerned, the major causes of school bullying are the lack of education on human rights and the lack of legal education.
In 2004, "China respects and protects human rights" was written into the Constitution of the People's Republic of China. In 2009, China's State Council issued the National Human Rights Action Plan of China. The Action Plan called for the strengthening of education on human rights and enhancing the awareness of citizens and rights consciousness of teachers, students, civil servants, the public, the mass media, enterprises and public institutions. The Action Plan also called for the fostering of the ideas of democracy, the rule of law, freedom and equality, and fairness and justice.
To deal with school violence and school bullying, we should strengthen education in the following areas:
1. Education on equality and non-discrimination. As written in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, "all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights." Nobody has the right to discriminate against, assault or humiliate another person due to race, skin color, gender, language, property, religion, political views, nationality, family background, identity, sexual orientation, strength and capability.
2. Education on the right to life. The right to life is the most basic — and the most important — human right. The other rights are nothing if a person's right to life can't be guaranteed. Therefore, people who commit crimes that violate others' right to life generally receive the most severe penalties, as regulated in criminal laws in various countries.
3. Education on the right to dignity. The right to dignity is an extension of the rights to life and freedom. People are required to treat each other as equals, and to respect each other.
4. Education on peace. Peace means no wars, hostility or violence. Peace also means non-violent constructive ways — dialogue, communication, negotiation and consultation — between countries and between people to handle divergences and contradictions. Through education on peace, people should learn to use peace and dialogue, instead of violence and jungle law, to solve disagreements.
5. Legal education. Strengthening legal education is a significant measure to prevent crimes. Students should know that everyone is equal under the law, and they should also know the Law of the People's Republic of China on the Protection of Minors, the Compulsory Education Law of the People's Republic of China, the Law of the People's Republic of China on the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency, the Regulations of the People's Republic of China on Administrative Penalties for Public Security and the Criminal Law of the People's Republic of China. Students must strengthen their awareness of the law, and they must abide by the law.
Such education should be carried out in kindergartens and schools, and within families and society. Through education, people, especially children, will come to understand the ideas of equality, respect, justice, tolerance and the rule by law. In this way, we will be able to eliminate the behavior of violence, and bullying in schools and in society, and we will be able to build a peaceful, friendly, fair and happy environment for the healthy growth of teenagers.
The author is Liu Bohong, a professor at China Women's University.
(Source: Women of China English Monthly March 2017 Issue)