By Angelos Anastasiou
THE number of reported cases of bullying more than doubled between the school years 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 and was reaching alarming proportions, Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou said yesterday.
At a joint news conference with the police chief, the defence minister and an official from the education ministry, Nicolaou said in the school year 2011-2012 there had been in total 913 reported incidents of bullying or violence across the educations system.
This included primary, secondary and technical schools.
The following school year, the figure had reached 1,846.
Nicolaou said nowadays, in addition to the traditional forms of bullying, the phenomenon had extended to intense forms such as racism, sexism and homophobia. In some of these cases verbal bullying turned into violence, he said.
“It is important that society and the state not turn a blind eye to bullying,” said the minister. “The quality of our society reflects the quality of its citizens,” he added.
Another type of bullying that is emerging was cyber-bullying. Nicolaou said studies showed that 6.0 per cent of children aged 9 to 16 had been victims of cyber-bullying, which is a crime.
Nicolaou said the increase in reporting bullying points to increased awareness and sensitivity to the phenomenon, but nonetheless described the results of the surveys as “alarming.”
“Children who engage in bullying… so-called ‘bullies’ or ‘tough guys’ are more likely to engage in other forms of antisocial behaviour, such as theft and vandalism , while other studies show that bullying at school is associated with criminality in later life,” said the minister .
“The perpetrators tend to become aggressive and violent adults who are, more than the rest of the population, likely to be involved in various criminal acts.”
Nicolaou said that internationally prevalent trends and a vision for a justice system that is friendly to children were at the heart of the government’s proposals to fight bullying, including the creation of a special court to try cases involving minors, and introducing the principle of restorative justice whereby offenders are responsible for repairing any damage they have caused the victim, and also instituting a Minors’ Counsellor.
He said the Anti-crime Council has prepared the 2nd National Action Plan to prevent and fight criminality, containing 217 multi-faceted action points.
The aim, he said, was not to fill the prisons but “to reduce instances of criminality”, hence the focus on prevention, fostering a healthy environment at school and developing the concept of mutual respect among children.
Confounding the problem, he said, was children’s tendency to avoid reporting bullying when they witness it. He stressed the importance of encouraging victims or witnesses to expose such incidents.
“The government has prioritised the introduction of minors’ protection programmes that employ new methods of self-help and socialisation, while engaging the community,” Nicolaou said.
Police chief Michalis Papageorgiou said cyber-bullying reports were investigated by the force’s cyber-crime unit, stressing that prosecution was not an end in itself. Papageorgiou said investigations were hindered by the fact that the law does not allow access to electronic data to facilitate legal proceedings.
The police chief described the force’s focus on prevention through lectures, publications, presentations and events, while declaring the need for community engagement to enhance such efforts.
Representing the Education ministry, Panicos Louka affirmed the support and enhancement of various prevention initiatives and said that further decisions will be made in the future.
Defence Minister Fotis Fotiou said the army was also taking a proactive stance on bullying in the National Guard.