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Study on Bullying and Violence on Campus from a Human Rights Perspective
May 03,2017   By:CSHRS

Study on Bullying and Violence on Campus from a Human Rights Perspective

BU Wei*

Abstract: “Campus Bullying” is essentially a form of violence against children and adolescents, but neglected for a long time because it occurred among these groups. This paper proposes to re-examine the nature of campus bullying and relevant prevention and intervention activities in a human rights framework. The author points out that bullying among children and adolescents, if without intervention, will become a socialization process through which children learn violent and unequal ideology. In conclusion, the paper makes suggestions on the prevention from and intervention in campus bulling from a human rights perspective.

Keywords: Campus Bullying, campus violence, Children’s Rights

I. Introduction

In recent years, many incidents concerning campus bullying were disclosed by the mass media including Internet. Here are some examples from this list: the video of Loufan County, Shanxi Province in which four girls beat up one girl went viral on the Internet; five students were threatened by senior students holding knives to strip and take nude photos and some of the victims who were beaten up and sexually molested suffered a perforated eardrum and bleeding in private parts; a sophomore in junior high school in Lianyungang was beaten up with her jacket removed; a resident middle school girl in Heilongjiang was beaten to unconsciousness by seven students in midnight, etc. Many campus incidents were successively revealed from 2015 to 2016, which shocked and disturbed the public. For example, a minute video of several girls slapping a kneeling girl and yanking her hair for five minutes gained thousands of clicks. It is worth noting that victims were not only harmed physically, but also tortured by mental and sexual violence, including humiliating, forced stripping and picture taking, being verbally abused or threatened, and to top it all, a video recording everything that went online to do further emotional damage to the victim. Moreover, people filled the comment section with “violent” words, threatening to “kill” or “chop” the underage abuser.

However, we notice that the violence among teenagers exposed by media is only a tip of the iceberg. Based on the baseline investigation and experience from the pilot project in the prevention and intervention of violence among children and adolescents, as well as this year’s retrospective study on the subject, we find out that more than half of teenagers have suffered violence of one or more forms, including physical violence, mental abuse, sexual abuse and humiliation. The places where they live such as home, school or neighborhood, are all potential violence scenes. Violence may come from adults (including parents and educators) or peer teenagers.1 Among all forms of violence, campus bullying is one that teenagers are most often exposed to, with both genders being potential bullies or victims.

Office of the State Council’s educational supervision commission has issued the Notice on the Special Rectification of Campus Bullying, drawing public attention. The emphasis on addressing the issue of campus bullying at a national level provides an important opportunity for the prevention and intervention of campus violence including bullying. It is in this context that this article tries to study the nature of campus bullying and its harm from the perspective of human rights, especially the protection of children’s rights, and propose relevant suggestions.

II. Human Rights System on Children Abuse

Bullying among children in the schoolyard is also a kind of violence, one of the right infringements that directly violate a child’s human rights. The word “bullying” literally means is violence targeted at the weak2, inflicted by the stronger individual or group on the weaker one, which is often shown as physical violence such as kicking, punching and beating.3 This kind of violence is definitely easy to recognize and usually gets the attention from adults. However, numerous cases of “violence to the weak” reflect an indirect violence, like the above-mentioned mocking, belittling and insulting the victim, forcing him/her to strip for purpose of humiliation, undermining his/her self-confidence, or isolate him/her from peers, which are often not easy to notice. However, indirect violence can do just as much damage to a kid as direct violence. Direct or indirect, the violence is more often than not ignored by adults. They recognize this violence as quarrel, frolic, misunderstanding, overdone joke or even “normal,” till it results in severe physical and mental harm for the child. Equally unwise, some adults condemn this kind of violence at a moral level as “brutal” or “inhuman.” Generally speaking, violence inflicted by adults on children and adolescents, or domestic violence, has been seen as “normal discipline” before, but is now a public concern. Sensitive in the issue, people will take prompt intervention to protect the rights of the underage. But if the violence take place among children and adolescents, it is seldom regarded as a problem concerning children’s rights. Obviously, the assumption affects the society’s role in prevention and intervention in campus bullying.

In 1992, the Chinese government approved the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which promised and planned to execute relevant measures to protect the rights of children and adolescents. A child is an independent person with personal dignity, and is born with rights to subsistence, develop, protection, and participation. The right to be protected means that every child has right to be safe from discrimination, maltreatment or neglect. Article 19 of CRC stipulates that: “States Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child.” Article 37 points out that “No child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” Such protective measures should, as appropriate, include effective procedures for the establishment of social programmes to provide children with necessary support and for those who take care of children, as well as for other forms of prevention and identification, reporting, referral, investigation, treatment and follow-up child maltreatment mentioned heretofore, and for a timely judicial involvement.

In 2011, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child issued General Comment No. 13: The Right Of the Child to Freedom from All Forms of Violence. Together with the CRC, the General Comment constitute the framework of human rights against violence on children and adolescents. The main points are as follows:

1. No violence against children is justifiable; all violence against children is preventable;

2. A child rights-based approach to child caregiving and protection requires a paradigm shift towards respecting and promoting the human dignity and the physical and psychological integrity of children as rights-bearing individuals rather than perceiving them primarily as “victims”. The principle of the rule of law should apply fully to children as it does to adults; Children’s rights to be heard and to have their views given due weight must be respected systematically in all decision-making processes, and their empowerment and participation should be central to child caregiving and protection strategies and programmes;

3. The concept of dignity requires that every child is recognized, respected and protected as a rights holder and as a unique and valuable human being with an individual personality, distinct needs, interests and privacy;

4. States’ obligations and the responsibilities of family and other actors. References to “State parties” relate to the obligations of State parties to assume their responsibilities towards children not only at the national level, but also at the provincial and municipal levels. These special obligations are due diligence and the obligation to prevent violence or violations of human rights, the obligation to protect child victims and witnesses from human rights violations, the obligation to investigate and to punish those responsible, and the obligation to provide access to redress human rights violations. State parties, furthermore, shall ensure that all persons who, within the context of their work, are responsible for the prevention of, protection from, and reaction to violence and in the justice systems are addressing the needs and respecting the rights of children.

5. It is important that State parties disseminate information and knowledge on the prevention and intervention of campus bullying. The Committee recommends that State parties widely disseminate the present general comment within government and administrative structures, to parents, other caregivers, children, professional organizations, communities and civil society at large. All channels of dissemination, including print media, the Internet and children’s own communication means, should be used. This will necessitate translating it into relevant languages, including sign languages, Braille and easy-to-read formats for children with disabilities. It also requires making culturally appropriate and child-friendly versions available, holding workshops and seminars, implementing age- and disability-specific support to discuss its implications and how best to implement it, and incorporating it into the training of all professionals working for and with children.

The series of assumptions and ideas have shown that the nations and the public cannot tolerate any kind of violence aimed at children and adolescents: any kind of violence is groundless and should be forbidden, and at the same time preventative. The prevention of campus violence not only involves legal and moral education for children, but also means a “paradigm shift” among the whole society. That is to say, education on human rights should permeate the society, in which each person, including his dignity and body as well as human rights, is respected. In the process of prevention and intervention of campus violence, the role of adolescents should be given full play, encouraging their participation in cutting off the intergenerational transmission of violence.

III. Understanding the Nature and Harm of Campus Bullying From the Perspective of Human Rights

“Campus Bullying” is essentially a form of violence against children and adolescents. Like other violence against adolescents, campus bullying brings about immensely adverse impact on their right to subsistence and right to development (e.g. mental development, moral development and social development), right to be protected and to participate. According to the researches at home and abroad, “the short- and long-term health consequences of violence against children and child maltreatment are widely recognized. They include: fatal injury; non-fatal injury (possibly leading to disability); physical health problems (including deaths from lung, heart and liver disease and sexually transmitted infections); cognitive impairment (including impaired school and work performance); psychological and emotional consequences (such as feelings of rejection and abandonment, impaired attachment, trauma, fear, anxiety, insecurity and shattered self-esteem); mental health problems (such as anxiety and depressive disorders, hallucinations, memory disturbances and suicide attempts); and health-risk behaviors (such as substance abuse and early initiation of sexual behavior). Developmental and behavioral consequences (such as school non-attendance and aggressive, antisocial, self-destructive and interpersonal destructive behaviors) can lead, inter alia, to deterioration of relationships, exclusion from school and coming into conflict with the law). There is evidence that exposure to violence increases a child’s risk of further victimization and an accumulation of violent experiences, including later intimate partner violence. ”4 As a form of violence, campus bullying brought bad influence not only to health and development of the victim, but the whole society. We recognize violence as a behavior which is used by the violence perpetrator to control the victim. By exerting violence, the perpetrator controls the victim mentally, frightening the victim into obedience. The unequal relationship established thereby becomes the foundation of inequality in our society and also the soil for the spread of terrorism. Not only existing in adult society, unequal relationship is also concerned between adults and children or between children. This relationship, by using the strength of body (or the power of a gang), authority, position and resources and trying to control the weak through violence, constitutes a typical feature of power politics and also a socialized process in which adolescents tend to be educated the inequality and violence. As mentioned above, any violence is a violation against the law and human rights, and any violence actually strengthens the unequal power structure and controlling relationships in society, which is the root of the occurrence of systematic violence (including violence targeted at women and other vulnerable groups). This is why we endeavor to eliminate violence, especially violence among children and adolescents, to cut off intergenerational transmission of violence.

The frequent occurrence of campus bullying reveals that children and adolescents and their contacted adults lack awareness of violence. Not being stopped immediately, campus bullying becomes a “natural” phenomenon, and then an acceptable and strong social behavior. Without timely intervention, violence will be spread across the campus and even the society. If violence becomes the only effective means to address the conflicts among the youngsters, a harmonious and equal society will be empty talk and security and human rights of the people will not be protected. Therefore, it is necessary for us to intervene and rectify the abovementioned problems via positive and effective education and initiatives, so as to remove the violence targeted at children and adolescents.

IV. Prevention and Intervention of Violence against Children

Based on the abovementioned, we must prevent and intervene in the violence against children and adolescents under the framework of human rights and children’s rights.

1. Education on human rights.

The prevention and intervention of human rights begin with the education on human rights. It is obviously not enough to merely carry out moral and legal education. Only by receiving education on human rights will all people, including adults, children and adolescents, be more sensitive to the human rights of children and adolescents, learn to adore equality and respect, uphold principles that the integrity and dignity of children and adolescents should not be infringed on. It is easy to notice that victims tend to be children and adolescents that are “different.” An introvert child, a “sissy” boy, a new comer in a group (e.g. a transfer student), an impropriate pursuer for an “idol” everyone admires, and even one with different looks or figure, these are all possible reasons for a child to be “sorted out” by a group. Therefore, this asks for education on respecting differences and gender equality, among which equality and dignity are the focus. 

2. To deal with campus bullying under the framework of human rights is not a sole project dedicated to the handling of one case, and not a responsibility assumed merely by school.

Instead, it should be a systemic project undertaken by the entire society. First, concerned departments should figure out whether or not these problems can be addressed by the current laws and policies, and whether or not we have provided a perfect protective mechanism with which victims can get rid of violence. What’s more, since most of the children and adolescents live at home, campus is not the only focus of the project. We should launch projects concerning parents’ education, with a focus on the domestic life. One object of these projects is to raise parents’ awareness of violence against children and the nature of bullying among children, to enhance parents’ ability to educate their children. The second object is to help parents respond to violence against their children, such as violence on campus, in community, on a date, etc., making the family a powerful support for children who are confronted with violence and reducing the influence of violent as much as possible.

We should also enhance the prevention and intervention of violence in our education system, mainly in school. Schools ought to be a place beneficial to security and development of each child, where the ability of teachers to address violence should be enhanced and resources should be provided. The prevention and intervention of violence in school also includes the education on living skills of all the students. For example, students will learn how to identify a bad intention, how to protect themselves and how to handle conflicts with their schoolmates and friends. 

The prevention and intervention of violence in community where children and adolescents live is also important. We should improve the ability of community organizations such as neighborhood community, public security, legal aid and hospitals to address violence against children and establish an anti-violence reaction mechanism. The main tasks of communities include building a “secure tunnel” of children to and from school, participating in other community activities; improving the surroundings of the school; helping curb the gangs and cliques and their bully behaviors; providing training for health workers to identify adults or children with a tendency of violence; maintaining public security of community; improving emergency treatment, trauma care and access to treatment; changing attitude of community residents towards violence through publicity campaigns, etc.

In the prevention and intervention of violence, schools and communities can support children and adolescents by establishing social capital for the purpose of reducing their vulnerability. The available social resources for children and adolescents include aid systems such as violence reporting mechanism, emergency aid system, board and lodging, economic grant or insurance assistance system, care center for abused children, medical aid system, mental health aid system, organization for parents’ education, training centers for teachers, supporting group for children and adolescents, and home visit system for addressing home crisis. Furthermore, social capital will be used to increase confidence and ability of children and adolescents in addressing violence.

3. As General Comment No. 13 noted, children and adolescents will be incorporated in the plan or program of prevention and intervention against violence.

Communities and schools can carry out initiatives aimed in eliminating violence and involving children and adolescents. They can take part in activities including research studies on violence, publicity campaigns on prevention of violence, community construction, safe campus building. It is indicated that a sound environment, where children and adolescents discuss openly with each other, can be fostered through holding little theatres or other literary and artistic activities, teenager forums, parents clubs, home visits, etc. The participation of children and adolescents in prevention and intervention against violence under the framework of human rights will be institutionalized, so as to enable the children and adolescents in exerting influence as a major actor in the process. This influence will constitute an important force for deterring intergenerational transmission.

4. From experience in eliminating domestic violence, we can draw the conclusion that mass media can play an important role in advocating the elimination of violence.

Departments concerned should provide training on children’s’ rights and how to report from the perspective of rights for mass media workers, organize discussions among them, and develop directions for this kind of media report. We have accumulated successful experience in this respect. For example, some online media in Shaanxi developed “Guidelines for Report on Rights of Children (2006)”, while the online media in Guangdong developed “Directions for Report on Violence against Children (2007)”. Media personnel, especially the TV show producers, should examine if there are erroneous ideas such as “violence is the only and effective means to solve problems,” and if their shows contain contents of discrimination or prejudice against vulnerable groups. They should be dedicated to the creation of works advocating peace and non-violence measures to solve problems. It cannot be denied that children and adolescents of current society are influenced deeply by mass media and the Internet. Therefore, we should be watchful for the environment where they live, in the hope of clearing away the bad influence.

It should be noted that China has made progress in the prevention and intervention in violence targeted at children and adolescents. In 2004, the Chinese government took part in the global study on how to eliminate violence against children carried out by UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and held a national-level counselor meeting. With the assistance of the UNICEF, institutions including the All-China Women’s Federation developed some models around how to prevent and intervene in violence from their experience in fighting against child abuse from 2005 to 2010. These models include domestic intervention, community intervention, and campus intervention. By drawing essence from these experience, we should redefine the campus bullying under the framework of human rights, raise everyone’s consciousness of children’s rights, and take actions until violence against children and adolescents are completely eliminated.

* BU Wei, director of the Research Center for Media Communication and Adolescent Development under the CASS Institute of Media research and a council member of China Society for Human Rights Studies.

1. For more details on campus bullying, refer to Bu Wei, Domestic Violence Elimination and Media Publicity, China social sciences press, Chapter 2 “Violence on Children,” 2012).
2. (G.M. Batsche, H.M. Knoff,“Bullies and Their Victims: Understanding a Pervasive Problem in the Schools,” 23 School psychology Review, 1994, pp. 165-175).
3. (N. R. Crick, J. K. Grotpeter, “Relational Aggression,Gender and Social-psychological Adjustment,” 66 Child Development 1995, pp. 710-722).
4. (Committee on the Rights of the Child, Article 15 “The Right of the Child to Freedom from all Forms of Violence, General Comment No. 13, 2011).