Interview of lawyer Savva Savvides about school bullying
- Suggestion for passing the law and establishing a clear legal framework for the protection and prevention of school bullying.
Q: I recently read another interview you had about school bullying and the example of the Public Kindergarten where the Kindergarten teacher of that school through a course taught children how to respect diversity in people. Is this indeed a problem confronting our children in schools?
Re: It is a multidimensional and complex problem that blights the Cypriot society, called in English bullying i.e. bullying is the social scourge that at the present time manifests in anti-social behavior between different social groups. Bullying, if I can venture to describe it in terms of aggressive behaviour, does not merely focus on the adult societal groups in the strict sense of the law, but appears mostly in the younger age groups of a society. This issue on legal grounds continues to concern us in Cyprus, often, and especially regarding the legal protection of children who are suffering from such unlawful behaviour from their abusers which make them victims - with severe and serious repercussions within the school boundaries.
Q: In what ways is school bullying experienced?
Re: Bullying in the strict sense of the term is aggressive behavior emanating from the abuser’s personal characteristics, and displayed in the following ways: physical, verbal, psychological or social violence, which manifests in deceiving, sudden, unprovoked and usually repeated behaviour that usually takes place in a familiar and secure environment where the person experiencing the bullying spends most of his time, such as the school, the University, the military, prisons, the workplace, with the result that it often reaches the media and the social network. The abuser (whether an adult or a minor) attempts to enforce and cause moral, psychological pain, mental shock, creating fear and using any means to achieve the purpose of causing emotional and physical harm against the targeted person, or even a group of persons who suffer, often forcing the victim to do things where he hurts himself.
Q: Are there many serious incidents of school bullying in Cyprus?
Re: Extreme incidents of severe school bullying have taken place, the latest bullying cases being the one in Greece of Vangelis Giakoumaki as well as the recent case on Cypriot soil with the learner who had to be hospitalized, after being severely beaten, and in general there are frequent incidents of students who even attempt and commit suicide or are publicly humiliated, as well as numerous resonant cases that have shaken the society and have had to be resolved through the courts.
Q: Are countries criminalizing the so-called act of bullying?
Re: In Greece because of the unfortunately frequent and severe cases recorded, the present Government has been forced to consider and modify the existing criminal legislation governing intimidation and has adopted the amendment of article 312 of the Criminal Code. The frequent serious incidents that have occurred has led to criminal charges being laid of intimidation by "bullying" and to measures being taken such as the establishment of independent authorities who are addressing this issue, including monitoring of online media.
In modern Cyprus where a strong family link is still valid, the increasing incidence of school bullying is causing turmoil which intensifies the responsibilities of both the society and the State.
Q: Is there a legal framework in Cyprus to address violence?
Re: Unfortunately, at international, European and local levels there is no specific legal framework or policy framework with regard to addressing violence in schools, only preventive measures, without a clear section outlining legal protection for victims.
The Government and competent bodies including teachers and police agencies are mobilised and I can say that there is a special awareness on the subject with various social campaigns. Nevertheless, there is no specific law or amended existing criminal law which imposes legal rules and penalties to prevent and tackle such anti-social behaviour affecting young people and children and shaping tomorrow's society.
Q: But are there core Articles for the protection of human rights that include intimidation?
Re: Violence through bullying amongst the youth violates the fundamental right of the individual to respect of human dignity and physical integrity. Many international organizations and European institutions endorse the explicit prohibition of such illegal acts that harm the mental and physical health of children which naturally constitute a violation of the rights of the child and his right to internationally recognised equal protection measures.
As a person in a society such as Cyprus, minors are protected and are subject to constitutional rights. Articles 7, 8, and 11 of the Cyprus Constitution, put emphasis on the protection of individuals with regard to the right to life and physical integrity, to not being treated harshly or in a degrading way, and furthermore the right of freedom and personal security.
At the international level, the International Convention on Children’s Rights and specifically Article 37 provides for the protection of children in not being subjected to torture or other cruel, inhumane, degrading punishments or treatment.
At European level, the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) on the issue of conditions, provides for the safeguarding of physical integrity and general respect for the honour and dignity of the individual.
The gap is filled in the revised European Social Charter in Article 17 where it includes specific reference to the protection of children and youth in general from situations of neglect, abuse or exploitation.
Q: What do you think needs to be done to eradicate this phenomenon?
Re: Bullying merits taking specific preventive tactics, over and above awareness by information, and to ban and eliminate acts of harassment by the passing of legislation, to protect the victim and to let the perpetrator know that he will suffer the consequences of infringing such legislation. Therefore, it is imperative to establish a clear legal framework for the protection and prevention of school bullying and all kinds of intimidation and adopt a reliable intervention technique.