School bullying has provoked a lot of debate, even around Parliament. The issue is serious for many reasons – so serious that the word ‘bullying’ seems insufficient.
School bullying fits the description of many crimes, including assault (physical and mental), coercion, theft, malicious damage, defamation, stalking and sexual harassment. If an adult committed similar acts at the workplace, the perpetrator would be fired.
No-one would suggest that the victim consider a career change. In the school world, the opposite is true. Teenage girls’ breasts can be touched without a word from the #metoo movement.
Bullying scars the victim for life and distorts the sense of justice for the victim, the bully and onlookers. Lack of early intervention leaves the victim alone and gives the bully and onlookers the wrong signal about the severity of the problem. The current legal practice, which prioritises the perpetrator over the victim, reinforces the wrong signal.
The guardians’ responsibility has been emphasised by all, including the top leaders of the nation. Yet too often, when problems are detected, the first ones turned to are the school and the authorities. In homes, parents should at least be asking whether their child is bullied or is bullying others.
The Basic Education Act and Child Protection Act offer sufficient legal recourse. These should be used gradually and in accordance with each case.
Teaching is the teachers’ main task. All too often you hear that the time needed for teaching is spent on investigating other issues. As schools grow bigger, a security guard could be considered for the lower and upper classes. This person would be in charge of overall security in the school, and handle cases of bullying together with the authorities. When I was at school, we had special schools and special education classes. Today, everyone swears by inclusion. Bullies and pupils who cause trouble all study in the same classes.
As a last resort, expelling the bully from school and transferring the teaching duties to parents could be considered. The spring lockdown due to COVID-19 showed how demanding home schooling is for parents. This could be used as a way to motivate a stricter approach at home.
Pupils from immigrant backgrounds have traditionally been at great risk of being bullied. Different skin colour or any other external characteristic must not give cause to discrimination in any way. However, in the past few years, violence by pupils from an immigrant background towards their native Finnish schoolmates has been growing. This is equally wrong and must be punished with a heavy hand.
Under 15-year-olds do not have criminal liability for their actions. However, according to the Criminal Investigation Act, they can be interviewed when suspected of a criminal act. Such an intervention by the police and other authorities sends a stronger signal about the act being unacceptable and serious. There is no age limit for liability for damages. More effective enforcement of the liability for damages could serve as a preventive measure.
It is no longer enough to just set up working groups, hear experts and dance around the issue to put an end to bullying. Active measures and goal-oriented problem-solving is called for. The victims of bullying are expecting it!
MP, Finns Party. Second Deputy Speaker of Parliament.
This article was written for MP Talk, a regular column from the Helsinki Times in which Members of The Finnish Parliament contribute their thoughts and opinions. All opinions voiced are entirely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints of the Helsinki Times.
The articles will be published in order of arrival.