Commission Warns State of ‘High Levels’ of Bullying Experienced by Schoolchildren

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (‘the Commission’) has called for the State to immediately set a clear timeline for the publication and implementation of the new Action Plan on Bullying and Cyberbullying. As schools prepare to reopen, the Commission reports that dangerous levels of bullying continue to be widely experienced by children at school, in other youth settings, and online.

In its report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, published today, the Commission has made over 100 recommendations, including those on the rights of children to access education regardless of parentage, the definition of the ‘ethos’ of a school, and clear plans for the divestment of schools from religious patronage. These recommendations would involve the State amending the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018, the Equal Status Acts and the Education Act 1998. Other recommendations range across issues of children’s participation across our family law, social welfare, healthcare and access to justice systems.

In particular, the Commission noted continuing high rates of bullying and cyberbullying amongst schoolchildren.  Unfortunately, current anti-bullying policies lack an intersectional approach, resulting in high levels of identity-based bullying experienced by children from ethnic minorities, LGBTIQ+ children, and children with disabilities. This can have long lasting negative mental and psychosocial effects on children and young people, making it a serious public health concern.

While we welcome the recent establishment of a Steering Committee to develop a new National Action Plan on Bullying, the Commission sets out that the proposed Action Plan must be based on an intersectional approach and include the meaningful participation of children and their experiences of bullying, both on and offline.

Chief Commissioner Sinéad Gibney said:

“Bullying can have a pernicious effect on children, and often a parent or guardian may be completely unaware of the suffering and stress that their child may be under. This is especially true of cyberbullying.”

“Therefore, as children prepare to return to school, we stress the urgency of implementing the action plan on bullying and cyberbullying, centring the experiences of those who are often targets of bullying, ethnic minority children, disabled children and LGBTIQ+ children, and informed by their active participation.”

Recommendations include:

  • That a clear timeline be set out for the publication and implementation of the new Action Plan on Bullying and Cyberbullying, informed by the meaningful and inclusive participation of children.
  • That the State improves the availability of disaggregated equality data on children across all sectors, including by mandating all bodies subject to the Public Sector Duty to collect, process, and publish such data.
  • That efforts to legislate for hate crime and hate speech prioritise ongoing specialised child-specific training for An Garda Síochána, the judiciary and the legal profession, as well as the provision of clear and precise definitions of relevant terms
  • That the State amend the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018 and the Equal Status Acts to ensure access to education for all children, including to define ‘ethos’ and precisely what is required to establish that a refusal was ‘essential’ to maintain the ethos of the school.
  • That legislation on school admissions should prohibit the use of a connection with a former student of the school as a criterion in the admission of a student.
  • Schools should be mandated to include disaggregated equality data when discharging their reporting duties.
  • That the State consider amending the Education Act 1998 to set down minimum standards for a school’s policy on arrangements for students who opt-out of denominational teaching, or use Ministerial power to make regulations on how schools shall provide for such students.
  • That the State establishes a clear long-term plan for how it will meet its targets for the establishment of non-denominational and multi-denominational schools and the divestment of schools from religious patronage.

ENDS/

Notes to Editors:

The Commission provided detailed comments to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (‘Committee’) in July 2020, and these comments provide additional background context and recommendations to inform the review. The purpose of this parallel report is to update the Committee on relevant developments since the adoption of its List of issues prior to reporting on Ireland in October 2020.

Read Ireland and the Rights of the Child

For further information, please contact:

Sarah Clarkin, IHREC Communications Manager,

01 852 9641 / 087 468 7760

sarah.clarkin@ihrec.ie

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Information for Editors

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is an independent public body, appointed by the President and directly accountable to the Oireachtas. The Commission has a statutory remit set out under the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014 to protect and promote human rights and equality in Ireland, and build a culture of respect for human rights, equality and intercultural understanding in the State.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is Ireland’s NHRI and is recognised as such by the United Nations. The Commission is also Ireland’s National Equality Body for the purpose of a range of EU anti-discrimination measures.

 

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