The Citizens’ Constitutional Forum (CCF) is concerned about cases of alleged bullying in schools recently highlighted in the media which should have our current child protection and welfare policies reviewed and effectively implemented by all stakeholders.
The latest incident that was captured on video and shared on social media during the weekend leaves the viewer disturbed. It has sparked discussions and online posts either sympathizing with the victim or directing anger, hate and resentment towards the bullies which perpetuates the cycle of bullying. The CCF encourages citizens of Fiji that we should all think before we react through what we say or do. We remind all Fijians that although we have a freedom of expression, these rights come with responsibilities to ensure that we respect the rights of others as well.
Bullying affects everyone in different ways. For the person being bullied it is feeling hopeless, stuck, rejected, unsafe, afraid, being confused and stressed. Those witnessing the act may feel angry, fearful, guilty or sad. If we do not stop or challenge bullying, we are encouraging spaces where bullying is accepted and everyone feels powerless to stop it. The CCF emphasizes that the toleration by some on archaic practices or ideas of ‘rites of passage’ or ‘accepted forms of disciplining children’ to justify such acts must stop now especially in school environments as these are acts of violence. These are acts that are sending wrong messages to children that will perpetuate violence as being acceptable in the guise of other ideas or concepts.
Students need to feel safe in their learning environments. They need to be treated respectfully and fairly. Each child has the right to be free from mental, physical and emotional stress while accessing his/her right to education. Fiji, during its 3rd Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in November 2019 accepted the recommendation to intensify efforts to protect the rights of children and women, including in the education and health sectors. Fiji had ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1993 hence Fiji’s obligation is to protect children against any form of abuse or violence.
We call on the Ministry of Education to address bullying by ensuring the effective implementation of its Policy on Child Protection in schools. Policy 2.1 clearly states ‘MOEHA and schools shall take appropriate measures to protect children from all forms of abuse, neglect and exploitation.” We urge the Ministry to thoroughly consider; the challenges of implementing existing policies, inclusive review processes and effective implementation by all stakeholders such as ministerial departments, teachers, students, parents, relevant law enforcers, civil society and so forth.
The CCF is equally concerned of cases of bullying that have not been brought to light or reported to relevant authorities. It is critical to always swiftly report to Police on any alleged incidences of emotional or mental stress, physical torture, abuse or degrading treatment done to students. Once reported, both the victim and suspect or offender must have their respective rights protected under the law by all citizens considering the problem of stigmatisation in our communities.
Teachers alone cannot deal with bullying in schools. Data provided by the UNESCO for Fiji from 1981 to 2016 sees a minimum of 19.74 students per teacher in 2016 and a maximum of 30.76 students per teacher in 2011. All stakeholders need to work together in being informed of current policies, penalties and responsibilities with human rights to contribute to reforming of positive school environments for our children.
The CCF encourages the relevant authorities to swiftly and thoroughly investigate alleged bullying incidences in schools so that those responsible would be held accountable for their actions.