x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Policies needed to keep bullies at bay

There is no exact word for "bullying" in Arabic. And yet, as the tragic case of Lujain Hussein makes clear, the problem of schoolyard bullying needs urgent attention.

There is no exact word for "bullying" in Arabic. And at schools, when a pupil complains of being bullied, they are often told to take it. Yet, as in many countries around the world, the problem of schoolyard bullying is widespread, and potentially damaging - both mentally and physically. In the UAE, not enough is being done to keep bullies in line.

As The National reported yesterday, an 11-year-old school girl in Abu Dhabi was admitted to hospital after being attacked by four boys in the school's playground. Lujain Hussein suffered a brain haemorrhage; she remains in a medically-induced coma.

The incident is an extreme example of bullying's dangers. But it is also a wake-up call on the issue. Schools generally lack anti-bullying policies, and although some schools have written rules against it, in practice these are little more than leaflets handed out occasionally to students, teachers and parents. Clearly, the problem demands more serious attention.

Official policies, from government agencies on down, must be drafted to prevent and punish such acts. Programmes are also needed to address the root causes of intimidating behaviour. Students must be encouraged to talk about bullying, and report it, especially if it is persistent.

In more serious cases, working closely with official centres that specialise in addressing such issues must be considered. In Abu Dhabi, for example, the community policing department works closely with schools to deal with such issues. But it can't do so alone.

Bullying is hard to recognise by teachers, parents and, subsequently, by authorities. One common reason for this is that children often fear they will be bullied more if they report it.

Students sometimes avoid bullying by running away from it, such as by pretending to be sick or coming up with excuses to leave the school. In turn, teachers aren't always made aware of bullying when it occurs.

The tragic incident reported yesterday must put the issue in the limelight. Traumatic effects of bullying can last a lifetime, not to mention the immediate effects of dreading going to school. Many steps can be taken to curb bullying. The first one is to take it seriously.