BEIRUT: Save the Children launched a nation-wide anti-bullying campaign this week as a national survey revealed one in two Lebanese children have been bullied. Bullying Is No Joke aims to raise awareness of bullying and advocates for safe environments for children.
The campaign comes after a Save the Children survey revealed that 16 percent of bullied children currently skip school, and 12 percent drop out completely. Allison Zelkowitz, Save the Children’s Country Director in Lebanon, said, “What this national survey shows is that bullying is a serious problem that hurts a lot of children – and many parents have no idea their children have been bullied.”
“We want children to speak up, but even more so we want parents to speak to their children” said Zelkowitz, after the survey revealed a disparity in perceptions of bullying between parents and children. While half of the children interviewed reported that they had been bullied, only one in four parents said that their children had experienced bullying.
Bullying Is No Joke feeds into the rollout of Lebanon’s first national Child Protection Policy, launched by the Ministry of Education and Higher Education and UNICEF in May 2018. Save the Children aims to put the Child Protection Policy into practice, raising awareness of bullying as an issue and working with the Ministry to create a child-friendly learning environment in schools.
The Ministry has been supportive of Save the Children’s campaign despite being stretched for resources, Zelkowitz told Annahar. She highlighted a new mechanism for reporting bullying in schools, tried and tested by Save the Children, as a positive result.
This comes after the survey highlighted children’s unhappiness with the current procedures in place to combat bullying. More than a quarter reported that their school had no rules to prevent bullying, while an overwhelming majority of children said they wanted their schools to take immediate action to prevent bullying.
Zelkowitz nevertheless acknowledged that tackling bullying can be challenging. Zelkowitz explained that “a sensitive approach” is necessary, as the perpetrators of bullying are children who have often been bullied themselves. The campaign also aims to raise awareness of more subtle forms of bullying that can be difficult to spot, such as social isolation or exclusion.
Another challenge is the racial or national background dynamic of bullying in Lebanon. The survey’s second most cited reason for bullying, after school performance, was ethnic, social, or national background. Discussing this statistic with Annahar, Zelkowitz said, “That does imply that it’s Lebanese, Palestinian, or Syrian children picking on each other for who they are.”
A contributing factor could be the scheduling of schools in line with the Ministry’s ‘second shift’ arrangement, whereby Lebanese children have classes in the morning and non-Lebanese children have separate classes in the afternoon. While Zelkowitz commended the Ministry for allowing refugee children to come to public schools, she said “I definitely think that we would not have as many of these issues in terms of social exclusion and children not understanding each other and picking on each other if they were all in the same classroom.”
However, Save the Children’s survey found that the level of reported bullying was very similar among Lebanese children (50 percent) and Syrian children (51 percent). Palestinian children reported the highest levels of bullying (58 percent).
Some of the children who faced bullying said it had a negative impact on their performance at school. On top of the 12 percent who have dropped out of school completely because of bullying, 17 percent of children said that their grades had decreased because of bullying, and 27 percent reported bullying had caused them to withdraw from activities.
Despite the prevalence of bullying, the survey found that only 39 percent of children and 47 percent of adults had heard of the term ‘bullying’ in either Arabic, English, or French.
To target this lack of awareness, Save the Children is conducting a social media campaign which aims to reach one million people. The campaign will regularly share case studies from the survey to highlight the different ways in which bullying occurs.
The organisation has also erected 22 billboards in Beirut as part of its raising awareness campaign.
In the long-term, Save the Children aims to develop a national campaign with the Lebanese Government to eliminate bullying in schools and communities in Lebanon.
Addressing the issue, Zelkowitz said: “How can we address bullying? We must address this issue at school and at home with the families, and we need other people in the communities to know that bullying is not acceptable. We want to highlight that bullying really is a very serious issue for children and can have lifelong damaging effects.”
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