Protection from Bullying Not Only in School: What People's Deputies Propose

Protection from Bullying Not Only in School: What People’s Deputies Propose

Photo: ua.depositphotos.com / Dmyrto_Z
23 November 2023
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Due to the war, children (as well as adults) experience additional stress, which can manifest as aggression. Aggression toward others can be observed both in schools and in other children’s groups (higher education institutions, recreational facilities, sports schools, etc.). In order to strengthen the protection of children from bullying, draft law No. 6393-d proposes amendments to the laws of Ukraine, including “On Education,” “On Higher Education,” “On the Protection of Childhood,” “On the Rehabilitation and Recreation of Children,” with the aim of improving mechanisms for protecting children’s rights and the rights of other individuals. What are the main changes being proposed?

Clarification of the definition of bullying and strengthening of accountability for it

The current legislation (the Law On Education, the Code of Administrative Offenses) defines bullying quite comprehensively, covering its various forms – psychological, physical, economic, etc. The definition proposed by the draft law not only encompasses the educational process but also other areas of life.

The current definition The bill’s proposal
Actions (deeds or inaction) of participants in the educational process involving psychological, physical, economic, and sexual violence, including the use of electronic communications, committed against a minor or underage person or by such a person against other participants in the educational process, resulting in actual or potential harm to the mental or physical health of the victim. Psychological, physical, economic, or sexual violence, i.e., any deliberate actions carried out against the will, desire, or consent of the victim, including the use of electronic communications, and violating their rights, freedoms, legitimate interests, and/or obstruct the performance of duties prescribed by law, which are systematically committed against a child or by a child against another person who are participants in the same group/community.

Increasing the responsibility of educational institution heads for the lack of timely response to bullying and failure to inform social services and the police 

The bill proposes to obligate the heads of educational, cultural, sports, recreational, and leisure institutions to:

  • Approve and oversee the implementation of regulations on preventing cruelty toward children.
  • Review complaints of cruel treatment.
  • Facilitate the participation of individuals who have experienced or witnessed bullying in rehabilitation programs.

In addition, the bill proposes to require employees of the above institutions to cease violence when necessary, provide medical assistance to victims (call an ambulance) if needed, and report to the police and parents within 24 hours.

Ukraine’s Administrative Offenses Code contains a provision for penalties for failing to promptly inform the National Police about bullying: a fine ranging from fifty to one hundred non-taxable minimum incomes (from UAH 850 to UAH 1,700) or corrective labor for a period of up to one month with a deduction of up to twenty percent of earnings. However, the bill proposes a more comprehensive approach, including anti-bullying prevention programs, which will involve the training and qualification improvement of educational institution employees.

Obligating educational institutions to develop anti-bullying action plans

The bill mandates schools and other educational and cultural institutions to develop and implement action plans to prevent and combat bullying. In practice, such plans can sometimes be formal in nature due to the lack of specific mechanisms for their implementation and monitoring.

In our opinion, it is advisable to: 

  • Involve representatives of students, parents, and teachers in developing plans. This will allow for the consideration of the interests and perspectives of different groups.
  • Conduct monitoring and evaluation of the effectiveness of plan implementation and make adjustments based on the data from this monitoring.
  • Include the implementation of these plans as part of the key performance indicators for the leadership of the institutions.

Monitoring can be carried out by the administration, psychological services, or authorized personnel from the Ministry of Education and Science through the analysis of bullying case statistics and surveys of children, teachers, and parents.

Operation of a single contact center for preventing and combating bullying

Currently, Ukraine has a hotline for bullying (116-000), which is a free service available 24/7. Children or their parents can receive consultation, report bullying incidents, and get assistance by calling this hotline. However, the bill’s authors are considering the possibility of renaming this contact center or replacing it. They propose changing the wording in the “Law on the Protection of Childhood” from “contact center for the prevention and counteraction of domestic violence, gender-based violence, and violence against children” to “contact center for the prevention and counteraction of cruelty toward children.”

Obviously, the authors’ idea is for this call center not to handle reports regarding domestic violence and violence under the adult category but instead to accept reports not only on cases of domestic violence concerning children but also on cases of violence against children in general, regardless of where and by whom it is committed. However, the specific implementation of this idea is unclear from the bill. Therefore, we support the Committee on Humanitarian Policy’s comments regarding the need to clarify this provision, including: 

  • Defining the legal status of the contact center (e.g., as an advisory and information department under the Ministry of Education and Science).
  • Establishing the core functions of the contact center, such as providing consultations, registering reports, handling referrals, etc.
  • Setting requirements for the qualifications of contact center staff, including training on anti-bullying matters.
  • Identifying sources of funding and material-technical support.
  • Defining the interaction between the contact center and other relevant authorities and services.

Professional development of teachers in preventing and combating bullying

Currently, the issue of improving the qualifications of pedagogical staff in the field of anti-bullying is not legislatively regulated. The draft law proposes introducing mandatory training and professional development courses for teachers on these matters. We support this initiative because systematic training will help educators effectively respond to cases of bullying. At the same time, it is essential to envisage updating teacher preparation programs to instill the necessary competencies during their professional education.

Providing psychological support to bullying victims

According to Article 76 of the Law on Education, the education system encompasses a psychological service that provides social and pedagogical patronage, including psychological support to children who have experienced bullying.

The proposed bill recommends expanding the scope of protection against bullying beyond educational institutions. It suggests removing this provision from the Law on Education and adding bullying to the list of ‘difficult life circumstances’ that qualify individuals for social services. In other words, this would shift the responsibility for providing psychological assistance to bullying victims from schools to social service centers. 

On the one hand, such an initiative aligns with the general logic of the law. However, in practice, difficulties may arise in its implementation in communities with insufficient resources or professionals to provide social services. Therefore, we believe it may not be advisable to completely abandon the possibility of offering specialized assistance within educational institutions. 

Conclusion

The bill is a timely and necessary initiative aimed at enhancing children’s protection from bullying. It includes several positive innovations, particularly in protecting children from bullying not only in general educational institutions but also in children’s groups in general.

However, some aspects require further refinement. Since the bill emphasizes bullying prevention, it should include incentives for the management of relevant institutions to implement anti-bullying plans in practice rather than just on paper. To achieve this, it is crucial to incorporate monitoring and evaluation of implementing anti-bullying plans in educational institutions. 

It would be advisable to not only train educators in creating a violence-free environment and combating bullying but also to integrate relevant courses into the curricula of pedagogical higher education institutions.

Authors

Attention

The authors do not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have no relevant affiliations