Commission warns Government over high levels of ‘dangerous’ bullying by schoolchildren

Children most at risk include LGBTQ+, ethnic minorities and those with disabilities, human rights body says

Desperate, depression, suicide, depressed, bullying

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has warned the State about high levels of dangerous bullying being experienced by children at school and online.

In a new report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, the commission says bullying continues to be widely experienced by children at school, in other youth settings and online.

It said existing anti-bullying policies lack an intersectional approach, resulting in “high levels of identity-based bullying experienced by children from ethnic minorities, LGBTIQ+ children, and children with disabilities”.

“This can have long-lasting negative mental and psychosocial effects on children and young people, making it a serious public health concern,” the commission said.


Participation of children

While it said the recent establishment of a steering committee to develop a new national action plan on bullying was welcomed, it said the proposed action plan must include the meaningful participation of children and their experiences of bullying, both on and offline.

Chief commissioner Sinéad Gibney said: “Bullying can have a pernicious effect on children, and often a parent or guardian may be completely unaware of the suffering and stress that their child may be under. This is especially true of cyberbullying.

“Therefore, as children prepare to return to school, we stress the urgency of implementing the action plan on bullying and cyberbullying, centring the experiences of those who are often targets of bullying, ethnic minority children, disabled children and LGBTIQ+ children, and informed by their active participation.”

A spokesman for the Department of Education said it has commenced a review of its 2013 action plan on bullying.

He said the review involves significant consultation and collaboration with Government departments and public bodies, and also involves consultation with a broad range of education stakeholders including parents and students, school management bodies and teacher and school staff unions.

“It is essential that a wide-ranging consultation is conducted to ensure that the views of the many stakeholders are considered in this important process,” he said.

He said it is envisaged that the updated action plan and anti-bullying procedures for schools will be published “in the coming months”.

In its report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, the commission has made over 100 recommendations, including the need for a “clear timeline” for the publication and implementation of the new action plan on bullying and cyberbullying.

School ‘ethos’

Other recommendations focus on the rights of children to access education regardless of parentage, the definition of the “ethos” of a school and precisely what is required to establish that a refusal was “essential” to maintain the ethos of the school.

It says legislation on school admissions should prohibit the use of a connection with a former student of the school as a criterion in the admission of a student.

It also recommends that the State consider amending the Education Act 1998 to set down minimum standards for a school’s policy on arrangements for students who opt out of denominational teaching, or use ministerial power to make regulations on how schools shall provide for such students.

In addition, it advises that the State establishes a clear long-term plan for how it will meet its targets for the establishment of non-denominational and multi-denominational schools and the divestment of schools from religious patronage

Other recommendations range across issues of children’s participation across family law, social welfare, healthcare and access to justice systems.

The commission’s report is aimed at updating the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child on relevant developments in relation to issues under examination.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent