Hong Kong schools

Set up independent body to probe complaints of bullying, youth suicide prevention group urges Hong Kong officials

Concern group says leaving cases to schools to investigate is a ‘conflict of interest’

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 25 November, 2017, 8:21pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 25 November, 2017, 10:41pm

A concern group on youth suicide prevention in Hong Kong urged the government on Saturday to set up an independent body to investigate complaints of bullying, criticising authorities for their passive stance.

The Citizens’ Alliance for Prevention of Youth Suicide, formed by several groups of parents, teachers and social workers, said a recent alleged bullying incident showed that schools could not resolve such matters themselves.

The alliance’s calls came amid a separate campaign on the same day by medical students from the University of Hong Kong to raise awareness of suicide risks among the city’s youth.

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The actions of both groups were sparked by a case on November 17, when a mother told police her son was constantly bullied at school and another pupil had forced a pencil eraser tip into the boy’s ear.

Teachers at the Tuen Mun school could not substantiate the woman’s claims, but the boy’s parents rejected their findings and vowed to pull him out of the school.

“There is a conflict of interest when schools handle their own bullying complaints. From a school’s standpoint, they would want to play down such incidents,” alliance member Simon Hung Ling-fai said.

They suggested that the Education Bureau set up an appeal mechanism for schools and an independent body should be in charge of looking into such incidents.

The bureau earlier said they had guidelines and training for schools and teachers on how to handle such incidents, and that they would study the investigation reports of schools, offering help if necessary.

Education lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen said the bureau had the “utmost responsibility” when it came to dealing with such issues and that they had the power to investigate.

Citing official figures, Ip said there was an average of 200 bullying incidents from schools across the city each year, but the figure had dropped to about 100 cases last year.

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Findings from the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa), released this year, found that Hong Kong pupils reported being threatened and physically bullied at school more than the average rate for all 52 countries and cities surveyed.

Pisa is a worldwide study conducted every three years by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on member countries and cities.

Some 20 per cent of 1,600 Hong Kong pupils surveyed reported that they had been hit or pushed around by others in school at least once, compared to the average of 11.9 per cent. The rate was the fifth highest among all OECD countries and cities.

Some 15 per cent of students in Hong Kong reported getting verbal threats from other pupils, according to the report. The rate put the city in the top 13 out of 52 places assessed.

Citizens’ Alliance for Prevention of Youth Suicide said bullying often went undetected in schools and that reported cases were “only the tip of the iceberg”.

“Each school should set up an anti-bullying group led by a teacher and a social worker to constantly monitor the situation,” alliance member Coco Wong, who is also the founder of non-profit group Anti-bullying in Schools, said.

“When any pupil needs help, he or she can go to this group so the problem can be nipped in the bud before it progresses to something more serious like an attempted suicide.”

Wong, whose daughter was once a victim of name-calling and being ostracised in school, said support should not only be given to victims, but also to bullies who might need help with emotional or social problems.