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Is bullying a problem in Spanish schools?

The Local Spain
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Is bullying a problem in Spanish schools?
Bullying in schools in Spain. Photo: James Sutton / Unsplash

Today marks UNESCO's International Day against Violence and Bullying at School. Here are the facts and figures that explain why bullying is an underlying issue at schools in Spain that's far from being resolved.

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Bullying - acoso escolar in Spanish - is a problem that affects young people in schools across the world, but it can be particularly difficult to deal with when you’re in a different country from your own.

Around one in four students in Spain (24 percent) said that bullying occurs in their class, according to a recent report by the ANAR Foundation and Mutua Madrileña.

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The annual bullying report collected the opinions of 5,123 students and 229 teachers. During the course of the pandemic, with many students either attending class online or in smaller groups, this number dropped to 15 percent.

Although it has risen this year, there are still fewer cases of bullying than in 2019, when just over 34 percent or one in three students noticed that there was a victim of bullying in their classroom.

Insults, name-calling or teasing are the most common forms of bullying at schools in Spain.

The number of cases involving physical aggression fell from 38 percent in 2020-21 to 31.8 percent in the most recent study.   

Among the main reasons for bullying according to the report are the physical appearance of the victim (56.5 percent) and the things they say or do (53.6 percent).  

The study also highlighted that in 72.6 percent of cases, bullying is carried out in a group, an increase that has been recorded in recent years. It was only 43.7 percent in 2018 and 2019. 

Organisations such as Save The Children, UNESCO and Amnesty International have all reported that between half a million and 3 million Spanish children are bullied, far higher than the figures logged by Spain's Ministry of Education based on calls to its anti-bullying hotline 900 018 018.

According to Enrique Pérez Carrillo, head of Spain's Anti-Bullying Association (AEPAE), the official figures only reflect "the tip of the iceberg" and nine in every ten bullying cases in Spain "go unpunished" or unreported to educational authorities (Amnesty International figures).

"The current system is a type of institutionalised fraud that leaves the family and the victim completely defenceless; what usually happens is that parents give up and move their child to another school," Carrillo argued about the fact that school staff are allowed to be involved in the investigation process and tend to hide information from the Inspectorate of Education in order not to tarnish the school's reputation.

The AEPAE leader has called for the Spanish government to roll out a nationwide law against bullying which guarantees children get the right type of attention and psychological help and ensures teachers are trained on how to deal with bullying and keep count of the number of bullying incidents.

More than 230,000 parents have signed a petition to ensure this reaches the Spanish Parliament, a campaign started by the parents of a fifteen-year-old girl called Kira who committed suicide in 2021 as a result of being bullied.

Spain's Education Minister Pilar Alegría has not ruled out that such legislation will be debated soon. 

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Cyberbullying

But it’s not just bullying in schools that has become a problem, cyberbullying or bullying online is also an issue.  

"Cyberbullying" is an increasingly serious problem because bullying at school is joined by an even worse one over 24 hours, mainly through Whatsapp, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. This type of daily torture has cost the lives of thousands of young people and children in Latin America and in Spain," said Dr. Javier Miglino, Expert in Human Rights Affairs and Founder of the NGO, Bullying Without Borders. 

This year's ANAR Foundation and Mutua Madrileña report in Spain reveals the stats for this type of bullying is low because only 8.2 percent of students said that think that someone in their class is a victim of cyberbullying. This is 16 percentage points less than in 2020-21.

WhatsApp continues to be the main means by which cyberbullying occurs in 66.9 percent cases, followed by Instagram and TikTok.  

Victims of bullying have 2.23 times more risk of suffering from suicidal thoughts and 2.55 times more risk of making suicide attempts than those who have not experienced it, according to the charity Save the Children.  

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How does bullying in Spain compare with other countries? 

According to Bullying Sin Fronteras, Spain is the worst country for bullying in Europe and the seventh worst country in the world.

Within Europe, Spain is followed by the UK, Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands.

The NGO reports that there have been 23,100 cases of serious bullying in Spain in 2022 so far.

Andalusia is the worst region for bullying with 27 percent of the cases, followed by Madrid with 15 percent of cases and then Catalonia with 11 percent of cases.

The regions with the least number of cases are Cantabria with only one percent, Aragón, Extremadura and the Basque Country with two percent of cases. 

What to do if your child is being bullied at school in Spain

If you know or think that your child is being bullied at school, there are several ways to help your child.

Spain's Anti-Bullying Association (AEPAE) is a useful resource which even includes a Q&A a page which allows parents to ascertain if it can be deemed as bullying. "If a child can definitely recall three incidents, there have almost certainly been more," AEPAE head Enrique Pérez Carillo concludes.

You should talk to your child’s teacher and report it to the school, that way they can be aware of the situation and keep an eye out.

They can also talk to the bullies to stop it from happening again. If you feel that your Spanish is not good enough, take a friend along who can help you out. 

Child psychologist José Antonio Luengo told Spanish broadcaster RTVE that there's "an epidemic silence" regarding bullying, stressing that many children don't dare tell their teachers and parents, whereas most of their classmates are "spectators, incapable of saying anything, sometimes through fears of repercussions".

As well as contacting the school, the advice is often to contact the parents of the bully to make sure they know what’s going on and talk to their child. 

According to the parenting website parents.com you should also try to build your child’s confidence, teach them the correct way to react, go through role-play situations, help them think up appropriate responses and promote positive body language.

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Comments (1)

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Anonymous 2022/09/18 01:26
You do not become the worst country for bullying in the EU, and the 7th worst in the entire world, without having institutional involvement. 1.) Record dates, times, circumstances and as much as you possibly can about every single incident as soon as possible after it happens, including the names of all of the people who witnessed it and what was said and done and by whom. 2.) The process for officially recording bullying and for raising it with the educational authority is deliberately difficult, obfuscated, expensive, long-winded and designed to fail both yourself as a parent and your child. You will have to be as thick skinned as they will in order to get through it. 3.) Even if you're complaint is accepted it will more than likely be brushed under the carpet. Every excuse in the world will be given and every allowance given to the bully to let them off because it generates work that the school simply cannot be bothered to do. 4.) It is as bad in the private school system as it is in the public school system and it is completely endemic. Most schools do not have a proper anti-bullying strategy, policy, practice, anything really. Those that do, and can be honest about it, will tell you that bullying is endemic but will also share with you the processes that they undertake to try to control it as best they can. Schools that had meant to bullying are often the ones you want your kids to go to because at least they are honest about it and are doing stuff about it.

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