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Bullying still prevalent, child rights advocates say

By: - Reporter / @santostinaINQ
/ 05:46 AM August 06, 2020

MANILA, Philippines — Unlike many parents who are anxious about the coming school year and its overhauled educational system, Belen, a single mother of an 11-year-old girl, feels quite comfortable with the digital transformation of education.

Belen said she felt quite relieved that her only child would be spared not only from the risks of face-to-face classes but also from classmates who bully her at the all-girls school where she is enrolled.

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“I was already considering transferring her to another school, but then I eventually decided to just let her finish, graduate elementary in that school, since she’s an incoming Grade 6 [student],” Belen said about her daughter.

“She was called names by this group of girls whom she thought all along were her friends. They took her things, her food and they always made fun of her in front of others,” she added.

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“Later on, it got physical already. They pinched her, they messed up her hair, et cetera. It just breaks my heart because I caught her crying silently. Because she didn’t want to tell me,” Belen said.

She said her daughter used to be smart and confident before the bullying happened.

Guidance counselor, teachers

Before the pandemic, Belen consulted the school’s guidance counselor and her daughter’s teachers on what can be done about the bullying.

“The teacher had already called the attention of those involved as well as their parents, but [this] only stopped for a while. They did it over and over again, so I said, something must really be done for it to stop,” said Belen, who now works as an online seller of home-made pastries after she lost her work in an airline company because of the pandemic.

Belen is not alone in regarding the new education setup as a silver lining coming out of the pandemic, because bullying among children, studies have shown, has become a common occurrence even online.

At a recent webinar on cyberbullying hosted by the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation, Bernadette Madrid, executive director of Child Protection Network, said “we found that 65 percent of the youth in the Philippines have experienced some form of bullying. This was in 2015. And when the Program for International Student Assessment did a similar survey in 2018, it was still 65 percent, as compared to other countries where the average is just 23 percent.”

The prevalence of cyberbullying in the country is also high at 44 percent, she said.

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Ysrael Diloy, senior advocacy officer for Stairway Foundation Inc., said “child safety is something not at the forefront of the preparations [for the new school year] just because we have the assumption that kids will be safer [since] they would be staying at home. But this is far from the truth.”

Ramon Magsaysay Awardee Kim Jong-ki said school violence had not disappeared despite COVID-19.

“It [just] changed into other forms—from offline to online,” said Kim, whose Blue Tree Foundation is leading efforts to discourage bullying in schools and suicide among the youth in South Korea.

Child protection

Diloy said online safety was not just about technology but also about empowering children with a protective behavior. “Schools should consider adopting policies on safety into the new normal,” he said.

Another crucial step is for schools to improve their disclosure process, Diloy said.

“While students have the option to tell their problems to their teachers face-to-face in the traditional school setup, there are many barriers with the digital education system,” he pointed out.

“They should think of innovative ways to open up pages to receive disclosures from students but in a safe manner,” he added.

Diloy also suggested that schools include child protection education in everyday lessons instead of just conducting “one off” advocacy activities.

Fr. Fidel Orendain, president and dean of Don Bosco Technical College Cebu, agrees that it is a challenge to bring online the “face-to-face familiarity” in schools.

“Online learning is challenging our identity and the way we educate. We have resolved to increase our presence by way of talks and conferences and even faith celebrations. We also have made ourselves available for counseling,” he said.

Experts also point out that adults have a key role to play in the prevention of cyberbullying.

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TAGS: Bernadette Madrid, bullying, Child Protection Network, coronavirus pandemic, coronavirus Philippines, COVID-19
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