Chief Children’s Commissioner - We’re All Responsible For Ending Bullying In Schools

Published: Fri 17 May 2024 10:46 AM
“They bullied me for wearing a hijab so I stopped wearing it to school.”
“They try make us ashamed – but we are actually proud of being Māori.”
It’s because of voices like these – of children and young people – that I’m wearing pink today. Pink Shirt Day is about stopping bullying by celebrating diversity and promoting kindness and inclusiveness. It’s important today and every day, especially for New Zealand’s children.Mana Mokopuna – Children and Young People’s Commission (photo supplied)
All children have a right to be safe, free of physical or mental violence and abuse. Despite this, latest data from the OECD shows that every day, thousands of Kwi children are being bullied.
The numbers are stark, showing that among the world’s richest countries, New Zealand has the highest rate of bullying among school students. Other studies reported by the Ministry of Education show about 36% of Year 5 (nine to 10 year olds) and 38% of Year 9 students (12 to 14 year olds) say they are being bullied on a monthly basis.
This dire picture should jolt us all into being ‘every day upstanders’ for children.
Bullying can make children’s lives really hard. During a time of life that should be joyful and full of potential, bullying also makes it hard to have hope for the future. It’s not difficult to draw a line to our high rates of youth anxiety, depression and suicide, and the fact that for so many of them, bullying is an ever present reality.Chief Children’s Commissioner Dr Claire Achmad on Pink Shirt Day. (Photo supplied)
The same studies show that students who are more likely to be bullied include disabled children, rainbow children (particularly transgender children), and those experiencing disadvantage.
As Chief Children’s Commissioner, I hear from many young people that bullying is part of their lived experience. I’ve heard this from mokopuna Māori who have told me that they experience racism frequently, and from resettled mokopuna who are bullied simply because they were born somewhere else. We’ve recently documented some of their experiences in the report Without Racism Aotearoa Would Be Better.
I’ve also heard from disabled and neuro diverse children who are bullied because of who they are, and from rainbow mokopuna who tell me that right now, they’re feeling particularly unsafe due to anti-LQBTQI+ actions in our communities, and because of the coalition agreement to remove and replace the Relationships and Sexuality Education Guidelines. I’ve also heard from care experienced young people who have been bullied because of being in or having been in the State care system.
When children and young people share with me their experiences of being bullied, I let them know that I see them, I stand with them, and remind them they have the right to be who they are. These children and young people tend to share with me an important call to action, too. They tell me that the places that exist for them – their schools, digital and community spaces – must be safe for them. But for many of these children and young people, these are the very spaces they get bullied.
Take schools, for example. Mokopuna whose share their voices in our recent report about racism have told us that school is the most common place where they’re bullied. But all children and rangatahi should be able to go to school everyday and be safe and supported while learning, valued for who they are, celebrated for their diversity, and proud in their culture and identity – whatever that may be.
While the Government is focusing on lifting school attendance, I’m concerned it’s missing one of the big reasons why, for thousands of children and young people, they don’t go to school regularly. It’s because school is a fundamentally unsafe place for so many. It’s the place where instead of being built up, their confidence and mana is ground down. Many have told me that they want to be in education, but that because of bullying, it’s just not safe for them.
To truly lift school attendance, it’s essential that the Government itself is an everyday upstander against bullying. I suggest it starts by listening to the experiences of children and young people who have been and who are being bullied at school. Their experiences show that the barriers created by bullying need to be removed, so all children can access education safely. To achieve the target of 80% of students attending school for more than 90% of the term, a focus on ending bullying in schools must be a central part of the plan.
Yes, anti-bullying programmes are an important part of the solution. But prevention needs to begin in children’s earliest years, through trusted adults like parents, teachers and coaches modelling healthy behaviours and relationships, at home and in the community. Children and young people themselves have powerful solutions to end bullying, which begin at school.
As one mokopuna shared in our report, “if we learn about different cultures we won’t bully people about wearing or being different”. Another says simply: “schools and teachers should act when there is racist bullying.” The reality is that we must play a part in being everyday upstanders so that care, inclusion and understanding thrives in children’s lives and spaces.
So, if like me, you’re wearing a pink shirt today, thanks. But let’s every day celebrate and value the children and young people in our lives and communities, by making the spaces that exist for them safer and more caring. Ending bullying can be a positive reflection on us all, and it’s possible.Dr Claire Achmad is Te Kaikōmihana Matua mō Ngā Tamariki | Chief Children’s Commissioner.

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