Children's Commissioner insists bullying can 'never be justified'

Children's Commissioner Pauline Miceli has stepped into the controversy sparked by Michelle Muscat's complaint that her children's school failed to protect them from bullying in the aftermath of the Egrant allegations

Child Commissioner Pauline Miceli and Kristina Chetcuti (inset)
Child Commissioner Pauline Miceli and Kristina Chetcuti (inset)

Bullying and harassment could never be justified, Children's Commissioner Pauline Miceli has cautioned in what could be interpreted as a rebuke of former Opposition leader Simon Busuttil's partner, Kristina Chetcuti.

Miceli's statement did not name Chetcuti but was a clear reference to the controversy that has developed in the wake of what Michelle Muscat, the Prime Minister's wife, said on TVM's Xtra last week.

Muscat said that her children’s school had not protected them from bullying related to allegations made against her in relation to the company Egrant. To illustrate her point, Muscat said that there had been school parties from which her children were excluded, despite the entire class being invited. She also said that there had been instances in which other children would "post things" in the school's social meda chat group.

On Sunday, in her regular column on The Sunday Times of Malta, Chetcuti indirectly referred to the matter, insisting "school ground bullying was bound to happen" and rather than make children "feel they are little princes or princesses" they need to be armed with "witty replies and punches".

Chetcuti was also critical of children under 13 holding social media accounts in a direct reference to the Prime Minister's twin daughters who have private instagram accounts in their name.

"You avoid social media bullying by actually following the rules: children under 13 should NOT have Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat accounts," wrote Chetcuti.

But now, the Children's Commissioner has entered the fray, insisting that it is the responsibility of adults to ensure that children, especially those whose parents are in the public eye, are protected. Miceli insisted that bullying or harassment could never be justified.

“Being in the public eye may have repercussions on one’s children, irrespective whether one is in the entertainment industry, a successful entrepreneur or involved in politics,” the statement read, adding that this was especially true in an island of Malta’s size where political discussion tended to be more polarised.

Miceli said that it was the responsibility of all those “who have any sort of impact on the lives of children” to protect them from the “fallout of this polarisation”.

One way of doing so, the Commissioner said, was to respect others, even if they hold different beliefs.

“The Office of the Commissioner for Children firmly believes that bullying/harassment is never justified. It is the role of parents and guardians, educators and educational institutions, and all other significant adults to ensure that all children, including children of politicians, are protected from all forms of bullying, harassment and/or discrimination.”

Finally, it said that only if adults gave a good example could children learn to respect their peers.

When you enter politics so does your family

In her piece 'On being a martyr', Chetcuti argued that parents who decided to pursue a career in politics needed to consider the fact that by doing so, they were also choosing the lifestyle for their family. "If your family is suffering because of your political role, don’t blame all and sundry, but point first and foremost to yourself."

Moreover, Chetcuti suggested that disappointments, like not being invited to a party, were a part of growing up.

"If your kids have not been invited to a party with the rest of the class, do not wail “Mhux fer”. It happens to all children whether their parents are doctors, bankers, plumbers or politicians. It is called part of growing up: the first disappointments. It serves children well later, because life is not perfect and there will always be people who won’t like you."

"School ground bullying is bound to happen. It can be because your children’s classmates think that your politician husband is absolute rubbish, but it could also be because your child wears specs or gets better grades or has a funny accent. You need to arm your children with witty replies and punches, and not making them feel they are little princes or princesses who deserve special treatment."

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