Government to take action to stem bullying
It has been almost four years since a 2015 survey conducted by, what was then, the Child Development Agency (CDA), which found that nearly 65 per cent of Jamaican children had been bullied at some point in their lives.
The UNICEF-funded study titled ‘Investigating the Prevalence and Impact of Peer Abuse (bullying) on the Development of Jamaica’s Children’ also found that 70 per cent of students interviewed were bullied during the 2013-2014 academic year. Up to 93 per cent of students said they had witnessed someone being bullied.
Following the publication of the survey findings the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA), into which the functions of the CDA were subsumed, established a technical working group (TWG) to guide the implementation of recommendations on how to address the problem.
However, based on answers provided by the CPFSA in response to questions from The Gleaner, the pace at which action is taken and recommendations implemented appears to be woefully slow.
This is despite the fact that the then CDA said that “almost all stakeholders agreed that due to the prevalence and potential impact of bullying, an immediate and effective response is (was) necessary.”
“The recommendations to effectively confront this issue include the development of a response initiative driven by inputs from stakeholder consultations to reduce bullying incidents,” it added.
While there are obvious delays, bullying continues, with several contemplating suicide and some even being murdered by their peers. Several parents have resorted to transferring their children to other schools. In one case, a girl attempted suicide by swallowing several dozen pills. Doctors had to pump her stomach to save her life. These incidents have been well publicised in the media.
The CPFSA said the findings from the study resulted in the creation of the “strategic framework of action” which is a collaborative response through which the TWG, comprising various stakeholder groups, will guide the implementation process.
Of note is that the TWG includes representatives from the CPFSA, the Ministry of Education, the Early Childhood Commission, Jamaica Constabulary Force (specifically the Community Safety and Security Branch and Cyber Crimes division), National Parenting Support Commission, Department of Correctional Services, Ministry of Health and Wellness, The Broadcasting Commission, the Dispute Resolution Foundation, Jamaica Council for Persons with Disabilities, Ministry of Justice, UNSECO, UNICEF and the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport.
CPFSA’s plan of action, four years after survey
The CPFSA revealed that it is planning a series of activities to combat bullying.
It says a press conference, tentatively scheduled for this month, is “to be organised” to launch the Anti-Bullying Framework of Action, which outlines the response of the Government and is spearheaded by the CPFSA. September will mark four years since the findings of the survey were made public.
The agency said a database of all bullying messages and interventions will also be created. It will be piloted by NGOs and civic society organisations.
The CPFSA adds that the TWG, through its sub-committes, will continue to meet to develop an implementation plan. The agency said that “given the important role of the TWG, efforts will be made to create and deliver capacity building exercises for its members on the issue of bullying and intervention modality that exists”.
The CPFA also revealed plans to collaborate with the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts to develop murals across the island with bullying messages from children.
Additionally, it said there are plans to develop bullying polices in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, to effectively deal with the issue at the school level, even though there had been suggestions that either such a policy already existed, or was close to being launched.
Meanwhile, the CPFSA said it continues to raise awareness of bullying through public education initiatives. To this end, it has aired several public service announcements in keeping with its ‘Every Child Deserves Protection’ campaign tactics.
The CPFSA has also partnered with the JCF’s 2016 Lasco Top Coporal Sergeant Nickoyon Brown and Bully Proof Kids International, to stage several anti-bullying school tours, dubbed ‘BanTheBullying’.
The sessions were held at several schools including the Randolph School of Hope, Our Lady of the Angels Preparatory, Calabar High and Merl Grove High in St Andrew, and St Elizabeth Technical High School in St Elizabeth.
The CPFSA said it made a recommendation to the Ministry of Education for bullying to be included in its Safe Schools Policy, in the first year (2015-16) of the published report.
“A recommendation was also made by the CPFSA for the issue of peer-to-peer abuse to be addressed,” the agency said.
And, the CPFSA also said that its framework of action outlines the need for additional research on cyber-bullying and the impact of bullying on families.
In the meantime, the TWG met between August and December 2018 and agreed on the framework of action and its terms of reference. It was not stated whether any meetings were held this year.
The TWG is divided into four sub-committees. These are: public education and awareness; training/capacity building; research and policy; and service delivery.
The research and policy committee is focused on the development of an anti-bullying policy for use in schools, advancing the status of the safe schools policy. It has undertaken a study on the prevalence of cyber bullying and is reviewing the Cybercrimes Act of 2015 to ensure it adequately addresses the issue of cyber-bullying.
The Service Delivery Committee’s primary function is the leveraging of resources available to the TWG and the streamlining of services for victims, bystanders and perpetrators. This will be done through counselling, mediation, a helpline and other services.
“Ultimately, it is hoped that all groupings will better understand the issue of bullying and its effects as well as how to identify and deal with bullying and to appreciate differences including disability, social status etc,” the CPFSA said.