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Fighting bullying in schools

First Posted 13:57:00 08/15/2010

MANILA, Philippines?It has been nearly a decade ago but Anne (not her real name) still remembers how her third grade math teacher bashed her head onto the blackboard and demeaned her in front of the class after she failed to answer a math problem.

She did not tell her parents about the incident for fear that her teacher will fail her in the subject. But apart from the physical pain, Anne was more affected by the humiliation she got?enough so that she refused to go to school after the incident.

?Pinapagalitan ako ng mama at papa ko kasi ayaw ko na pumasok. Napahiya ako at nawalan ng tiwala sa sarili. Mula nun hindi na ako nag-recite ulit sa klase (My parents scolded me because I didn?t want to go to school again. I was humiliated and I lost confidence. After that I never participated in class recitations again),? Anne said in an interview.

Now a college student, Anne has become an advocate against violence against children especially in schools, considered to be children?s second home and places for learning.

In a study commissioned by the United Nations Children?s Fund, the Council for the Welfare of Children, and Plan International, it was found that most students in the grade school and high school have experienced various forms of abuse either from their peers or from their teachers.

The study, titled Towards a Child-Friendly Education Environment: A Baseline Study on Violence Against Children in Public Schools, surveyed a total of 6,931 public grade school and high school students, of which 51 percent are females and 49 percent are males. The results of the study were made public in an event at Sulo Hotel in Quezon City last week.

The study aims ?to explore the dimensions of violence against children in schools, mapping out in broad strokes its definition(s), and the perception and attitudes of children and adults on the issue.?

The study covered schools in urban areas like Manila, Cebu City and Davao City, and rural areas like the Mountain Province, Masbate, Camotes Island in Cebu, Northern Samar, Capiz, and Sultan Kudarat.

The study also included interviews with 65 school principals and administrators, and 24 counselors.

The study defined violence against children as ?any act that violates children?s rights, particularly their right to physical and mental health, security and bodily integrity.?

The study revealed that children?s perception of violence is focused on acts that hurt them physically or emotionally.

This even includes punishment given to them by teachers for misbehaving like being made to squat, stand in the corner of a room, or stand under the sun (commonly practiced in schools in rural areas).

Although the children generally understood that these punishments are a way of disciplining them, the respondents said that they prefer a more positive way like being talked to or counseled by their teachers.

Respondents also said they consider bullying, being called stupid or other demeaning terms, being teased by their classmate, or being completely ignored by the people around them as a form of abuse.

?Children suffer more acts of violence from their peers than from adults in school while younger children experience physical violence from adults more often,? the study read.

?Teasing from peers often perceived as child?s play was perceived as an ?abuse? since this is made to humiliate or demean the victims,? the study added.

Michael, 19 and a homosexual, said that he has experienced being bullied and discriminated by his classmates because of his sexual orientation. But he said that he has gotten used to it by now.

Among the recommendations made under the study was to expand the public?s knowledge on laws protecting children and where to get assistance through community education programs and strengthening ties with media partners to advocate against violence against children.

Meanwhile, CWC chairperson and Department of Social Welfare and Development Secretary Corazon Soliman said that she finds the results of the study alarming.

?Kami ng DepEd, Unicef, ng CWC at sa DSWD ay nag-aalala. Na-aalarma na kami na ang ganitong sitwasyon ay lumabas sa pag-aaral at kinakailangang gawan ng hakbang para ito ay makureksyonan (The DepEd, Unicef, CWC, and the DSWD are worried. We are alarmed that this kind of situation surfaced in this study and we have to take steps to correct this),? Soliman said in a chance interview after the launch.

She said that a main concern would be the Philippine culture or belief that forms of punishment are considered ways of disciplining children.

?Ang isang hamon ay sa kultura natin, sa tingin natin ang disiplina ay magagawa lamang kung may marahas na parusa kaya iyon yung isang kailangan pagtulungan naming ng DepEd (One challenge is our culture wherein we think that discipline may only be attained through harsh punishments, so we have to work closely with the DepEd in that regard),? Soliman said.

Soliman recommended that Parent-Teacher Associations and boards of public schools be empowered to help protect the rights of children. She added that there are programs under the DSWD like the Parent Effectiveness Seminar and Erpat (Father) which gives counsel to fathers with history of abuse.

?The media should also become partners in this advocacy by showing TV shows and movies which are non-violent,? Soliman said.

Meanwhile, Department of Education?s Alberto Muyot said the department will work closely with concerned stakeholders.

?We have to address the issues raised by the children in the study. We will look into this. We?ll work closely with the Council for the Welfare of Children on their recommendations kasi medyo general pa yung recommendations sila so bibigyan natin ng detalye (because their recommendations are mostly generalities so we will fill in the details),? the education official said.

Students or parents may report abuses in schools through the DepEd?s Legal and Legislative Affairs, Muyot said, but he urged complainants to follow through on their reports.

?Ang hinihingi lang po namin ay ang kooperasyon ng mga magulang nung mga bata na kapag kami nagpadala ng mag-iimbestiga sana maki-cooperate sila para makuha namin yung salaysay nung mga bata (All we ask is for the cooperation of the parents, so that when we send people to conduct an investigation, please cooperate in allowing us to get the testimony of the children),? Muyot said.

He added that teachers or other school employees found guilty of physically or verbally abusing students may be suspended or dismissed from service, as per the civil service law.

Meanwhile, Anne urged other victims of abuse in schools to report incidents to authorities.

?Humanap kayo ng makakatulong sa problema at wag kayo matakot. Magsumbong kayo sa magulang nyo (Look for people that can help you with your problem and don?t be afraid. Tell your parents),? Anne said, adding that she hopes the results of the study will prevent more cases of child abuse.

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