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Holistic approach needed to prevent bullying

By Qiao Xinsheng | China Daily | Updated: 2019-11-12 08:06


Chinese film Better Days has sparked a public debate on school bullying, especially since the draft amendment to the Law on the Protection of Minors and the Law on the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency submitted to the National People's Congress Standing Committee on Oct 21 for review pays special attention to school bullying.

The draft amendment divides the behavior of minors into bad behavior, seriously bad behavior and criminal behavior, recommending different disciplinary measures against different types of behavior.

Some scholars say that if we focus on the kind of measures-educating students about the consequences of bullying, taking measures to prevent bullying, and punishing students for bullying-we will only end up having discussions without finding any solutions to the problem.

Since minors don't fully understand the consequences of their behavior, they may develop a rebellious nature if subjected to excessive punishment. Creating a good environment in order to change minors' psychology may be a more effective way of preventing juvenile delinquency. So educational institutions and communities should set up counseling centers to reduce bullying.

Psychological counseling is an effective way of dealing with minors' problems and the most effective way of preventing school bullying. Both in developed and developing countries, counseling is the trusted way of dealing with minor's psychological problems and preventing them from developing criminal traits despite facing difficulties and suffering setbacks.

Since China is undergoing an economic and social transformation, it is natural for some scholars to doubt the role of counseling and argue that only by "killing the chicken to scare the monkey" can we end school bullying.

To be frank, counseling may reform a vast majority of minors, but it may not be effective in reforming hardened bullies. Still, counseling can help us detect the early signs of criminal bent of mind and take necessary measures to instill sense into the minors with such a trait and prevent them from indulging in bad and/or criminal behavior in the future.

Another controversial issue is whether the age of criminal responsibility for minors should be lowered. The Criminal Law says if a person aged 16 or above commits a crime he or she shall bear criminal responsibility for the act. But if such a person is aged below 16, his or her parents or guardian would be ordered to discipline him/her. Many scholars have argued that the age for criminal responsibility should be lowered from 16 to 12 for serious crimes, such as murder, rape, robbery, drug trafficking, arson, poisoning or causing grievous or fatal injury to others. The reason: because of the socio-economic improvement and China's educational and scientific development, minors today grow up rather fast with some of them knowing full well the consequences of their actions.

Indeed, if no punitive action is taken against minors who commit a serious crime, other minors might be encouraged to commit such crimes and seek "immunity" from punishment for being aged below 16. Therefore, lowering the age of criminal responsibility is important to maintaining social order and protecting the interests of minors on campus.

The existing laws emphasize the responsibility of parents and society in preventing bullying. But since bullying happens on campus or on way to school or home, school authorities should shoulder some of the responsibility of preventing bullying.

Simply put, since parents alone cannot stop school bullying, schools should set up counseling centers and hire trained security guards to prevent bullying. The schools should also maintain close contact with the local public security bureau and once they find a minor crossing the threshold of seriously bad behavior, they should report the incident to the bureau so it is handled in accordance with law.

China attaches great importance to the protection of minors' rights and interests. And the amendment to the Criminal Law by the top legislature is aimed at further strengthening the protection of minors' rights and interests, and preventing injuries to them.

Still, punishment alone cannot solve the bullying problem. Only by taking multiple measures-rather different measures to deal with different types of behavior-can we solve the bullying problem.

The author is a professor of law at Zhongnan University of Economics and Law. The views don't necessarily represent those of China Daily.

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