“He was alone in the toilet again. At this moment, he started to cry. He said he was so scared; there was urine on his whole face and he stank. Boys are naughty, and they often pee in the trash can.”
This is the story told by the mother of a 10-year-old boy who was cornered at a school toilet, where bullies threw a trash can with urine on the boy’s head. The article, published by China News, soon made its rounds on Chinese social media, where netizens were outraged.
“When he came home and told me everything, my child was shaking violently. I wanted to comfort him and took him to the bath; he immediately started hauling. He told me that he had washed himself with cold water at school for a very, very long time and that he was not stinky anymore.”
According to the mother’s reports, her son had been bullied for over a year and now refuses to go to school. After the boy was diagnosed with acute stress disorder, the doctor suggested he would better stay at home for now.
“A joke that went too far.”
While the mother decided to stand up for her son in front of the school and the bullies’ family, the school defined the issue as a “joke that went too far”, and suggested it was “normal” for 4th graders to “have no boundaries.”
The school allegedly also demanded the mother to withdraw her four demands- that the bullies would be punished; that the bullies’ parents would apologize; that her son would be protected from further harassment, and that the bullies would cover his medical expenses.
The school in question, the Beijing Zhongguancun Second Primary School, remained vague and even indifferent in their official response to the case.
Apart from stating that the matter would be resolved in a manner that ensured the “legal rights of every child”, they focused on the recent media attention and reputation of the school. The second part of the statement said that all “false reportage” on the school would have legal consequences and the media should allow the school to resolve this issue in private.
The experiences of this mother has stirred huge discussions online about school bullying in China.
“School teachers often consider bullying to be normal behavior for children.”
This is not the first time the problem of school bullying makes headlines in China. A recent report by the Public Health Department revealed that of a total of 187.328 students from 18 Chinese provinces 66.1% of boys and 48.8% girls have experienced one or more forms of bullying.
According to China News Weekly (中国新闻周刊), there were 43 cases of school bullying reported by the Chinese media in the 2014-2015 period. 26 of these cases occurred during March and July 2015. School bullying happens in both metropolitans like Beijing and Shanghai, and less-developed areas like Guangxi and Yunnan.
75% of school bullying happens in junior or senior high school (respectively 12-15 and 15-18-year-olds), says a report by South Weekly (南方周末).
Bullying happens mostly among the same sex, with 52.50% among boys and 32.50% among girls. The use of digital technology, such as filming the bullying and publishing it online, makes victims more vulnerable to further harassment.
Although causing emotional and physical harm to their victims, bullies are rarely punished for their behavior. In most cases, they merely receive a lecture or a record on their school document.
The school’s seemingly indifferent response to the mother’s story is not uncommon. School teachers often consider bullying to be normal behavior for children.
In a bullying case that made news last year, for example, a group of high school girls from Lanling, Shandong, physically harassed a fellow student and burned her breasts while filming the whole ordeal, later releasing the video online. The school where these girls studied did not report the matter to the police. Instead, they arranged an oral and written apology from the bullies and their families.
“Bullies’ parents often protect their children, even if they have done wrong.”
Over the recent year, the Chinese government has introduced several measures in an attempt to combat school bullying. In April 2016, the Ministry of Education issued an announcement that it would make the prevention of school bullying a special priority.
In November of this year, together with nine other departments, the Ministry of Education issued another official paper, providing guidelines to preventing and resolving school bullying and campus violence. The recommended measures including a youth hotline on a local level which provides help and consultancy to victims of bullying. It allows for police intervention when the bullying is serious enough.
Despite these efforts, however, the story of the 10-year-old boy with the toilet trash can thrown on his head is proof that the problem of school bullying is still present, and that it is not always adequately handled by schools. One of the reasons is that it simply takes time for the new measures to come into practice. Another underlying issue is that there is still low awareness about school bullying among parents and Chinese society at large.
Bullies’ parents often protect their children, even if they have done wrong. According to the mother of the 10-year-old boy, the parents of her son’s bullies thought it unnecessary to “appeal to the school for such trivialities”, since their children were just being “naughty”.
Even when parents are aware of the wrong-doing of their children, they will still try to cover up to shield their “cubs” from any accountability. Earlier this year in a case in America, several Chinese students in Rowland Heights bullied and humiliated a fellow Chinese student, and were brought to court. The father of one of the alleged attackers was caught for attempted bribing of the victim.
“People don’t realize children can also do harm.”
“The majority of people don’t realize that children have the power to do harm,” one Weibo netizen responds: “Most people are not aware of the wide scope and occurrence of school bullying. Children are children, meaning not only don’t they have the ability to defend themselves, but they also don’t have the ability to control themselves. If you don’t teach them what is evil, they could hound somebody to death. If you don’t teach them to resist evil, they could be hounded to death.”
“I applaud this mother for speaking out,” another Weibo commenter said: “The more she stirs up havoc, the better. Staying silent only makes the problems worse. If you don’t punish these little devils for what they did they will only go further.”
Most netizens agree that the Chinese parents who are “protecting their cubs” are not helping to combat school bullying, but instead are only worsening the problem. As one netizen mockingly wrote: “If my son is bullied in the future, I will teach him to fight back with everything he can; including using bricks, stones, knives, chairs and all kinds of sticks, full force to the head. After all, I can just come up in the end and say, sorry, it’s just ‘children’s play.’”
Edited by Manya Koetse
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