Cyberbullying ‘common threat’ for children, says EU rights agency

Fundamental Rights Agency says online bullying employed for homophobic attacks on children

Cyberbullying has become a common threat to children's wellbeing, says the FRA
Cyberbullying has become a common threat to children's wellbeing, says the FRA

Cyberbullying has become “a common threat to children’s well‑being”, the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) has reported in its 2013 annual report.

FRA said the severe effects of bullying on the internet, can lead to self‑harm and other psychological affliction for children unable to fight anonymous bullying and ganging-up on the web.

Examples of cyberbullying include mean text messages or emails, rumours sent by email or posted on social networking sites, and embarrassing pictures, videos, websites or fake profiles.

In May 2013, a 14-year‑old girl from Novara, Italy, committed suicide after some offen­sive videos were posted online. Bullying is not limited to the internet, being widespread also in schools. MEPs called for the establishment of a European Day against Bullying and School Violence in January 2013.

FRA conducted the first ever online EU‑wide survey to establish an accurate picture of the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people and their experiences with regard to fundamental rights. A total of 93,079 LGBT persons took part in the survey. Asked about their experiences during childhood, more than eight in 10 respondents in each LGBT subgroup and in each EU Member State have witnessed negative comments or conduct during their schooling because a schoolmate was perceived to be LGBT; in other words, in all EU Member States more than 80% of LBGT people surveyed have heard or seen negative comments or conduct towards a peer perceived to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

Two thirds (68%) of all respondents who answered the question say these comments or this conduct has occurred often or always during their schooling before the age of 18. The highest rates are in Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Ireland, Malta, Spain and the UK

67% of all respondents said they often or always hid or disguised the fact that they were LGBT during their schooling.

Bullying and violence in schools remains an important concern in the EU. Many member states have taken up the matter to address issues of school violence and bullying. A government bill was tabled in Finland’s Parliament on 6 June 2013 aiming to reduce bullying by shifting emphasis from individual measures and reparation to col­lective measures and prevention. The legislative proposal includes an obligation to offer services by school welfare officers and psychologists to pupils at the secondary level of schooling, not only to primary pupils as in the present legislation.

Bulgaria has set up an expert working group at the Ministry of Education, which developed a mecha­nism for combating school bullying. In Greece, the Centre for the Prevention of School Violence established by the Ministry of Education, presented findings of a major survey based on a sample of 41,422 school children showing that 33% were vic­tims of violence because of their place of origin and 11 % because they belonged to a minority group.

The Action Plan Against Bullying in schools in the Netherlands contains a proposal for an act that will oblige all primary and secondary schools to employ effective measures against bullying, ensure its moni­toring and appoint a person who coordinates actions tackling bullying.

Research shows that children are significantly more vulnerable to school violence if they belong or are per­ceived to belong to a minority group, such as migrant, Roma or LGBT children.

There were numerous racist incidents involving students but also parents and even teachers against students, as reported by the Greek Ombudsman in September 2013. The majority are related to the ethnic and racial background of the students. Teachers are often seen as tolerating this type of violence.

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