A week after a schoolyard attack by four boys left 11-year-old Lujain Hussein in a coma, officials, parents and students are still coming to terms with how such an incident was allowed to take place. Many believe that schools in general should be held responsible for such attacks.
Statistics about school violence in the UAE show disturbing trends; a World Health Organization survey of 13 to 15-year-old students in the Emirates revealed that in 2010, almost half had been involved in physical altercations, while nearly 22 per cent admitted to being bullied in the previous month.
A serious investigation into the protection of children is needed and, just as important, a system of enforcement that will eradicate such behaviour in schools across the country.
Education officials and experts are correct in calling for tougher measures. Young Lujain's case is complicated because she had a pre-existing health condition, but many still hold Al Maali International School as at least partly responsible.
"Somebody should have taken guard during this entire incident and should have acted proactively to take all the measures which could have disciplined the children," said Vijaya Chandra, principal of Abu Dhabi Indian School. Others such as Carmen Benton, who holds anti-bullying workshops for schoolchildren in Dubai, believes a "zero-tolerance" policy against fighting or bullying is the way forward.
There are other factors that contribute to bullying. To be sure, parents must shoulder some of the blame for the actions of their children. But what is beyond debate is that better security, discipline and safety-education programmes must be introduced across schools in the emirates.
A common-sense approach is vital. Serious consideration must be given to increased counselling services, helping to resolve conflicts before they spill onto the playground. If aggressive tendencies among certain students persist, then strict punishments, including suspension or even expulsion, must be considered.
For too long bullying on playgrounds across the country has been dismissed as kids being kids. It is regrettable that it has taken such a tragic incident to bring attention to these practices. Now, action must be taken to make sure no child suffers the same ordeal.