Government officials are taking a stand against bullying in Bolivia. A law passed in 2014 criminalizes bullying, and anyone over the age of 14 could be sentenced to as much as six years in prison for causing injury or death by bullying, a report in the Bolivian Newspaper Pagina Siete said.
The law basically means children can be treated as adults if they are guilty of bullying when it results in physical injury. The law was part of the code for children and adolescents that also set the minimum working age at 14.
A University of Santa Cruz de la Sierra in Bolivia cited a national study that showed 50 percent of children between the ages of 11-14 are bullied. Those numbers were similar for all ages, but the young teen years are the most common time when people are bullied. The study showed 30 percent are victims, and about 20 percent of the people involved admit to having been a bully at some point.
In recent years the government has made many efforts to combat bullying, and have conducted several studies and educational programs. The studies have found victims tend to get depressed and have greater anxiety, and ultimately may try suicide. The study further found that bullies tend to become criminals in other areas as they get older, and often they continue to be bullied. The study also cited those that witness bullying, and said those that do not speak out may develop insensitivity to the issue.
The government went on to define bullying by giving four criteria, all of which must be met for it to be considered bullying. It must be between peers when there is a perceived imbalance of power or strength, aggressive and intimidating behavior towards a victim, and it must be repeated over a period of time to be identifiable.
A later study, released in June of 2015, said 60 percent of students in the city of El Alto in Bolivia have been bullied by their fellow students or even by teachers. Overall the estimates of about 50 percent nationally remain true even though there has been some effort in recent years to stem the tide.
Also in the city of Alto, two teachers were convicted of discrimination against a student, which was also considered bullying. It was the first criminal case that has been brought forward under the new law against bullying.
The Mayor of La Paz said there have been 25 formal complaints filed about bullying in schools since the first of the year. Most of these cases originated in private schools, which seems to have a higher rate of bullying that public schools in many cases. The complaints came from 25 different schools in the La Paz area.
Even though the statistics on bullying show 50 percent of people are bullied, many officials believe bullying in Bolivia is actually worse than that because people often do not report they have been a victim.
While the rates are high, people do not think it is a new thing. Teresa Callisaya, a primary instructor, said bullying has been present for years in schools. She said most cases of bullying happen in the final years of primary school, or the first years of middle school. Most cases also happen when there is little or no adult supervision, whether that be in recess or before or after school. They are trying to increase the level of adult supervision in hopes that will help. Middle school bullying is still the most common age, according to bullying information. High school bullying is also a problem according to bullying statistics.
Cyberbullying is also a problem as the electronic age spreads around the world. Facebook bullying and internet bullying are also on the increase, and are part of the prevention programs that are in place. More than two million Bolivians have Facebook accounts, and most of those are between the ages of 16 and 25. The ages of 13-17 remain the most common age for bullying victims, though it can continue into adulthood. There is workplace bullying and office bullying for adults often who were bullied as children as well.
Bolivian officials note that children are adept at social media, and they suggest parents also become familiarized with the medium so they can monitor and help their children.
While the government is trying to address the growing problem of bullying in Bolivia, some activists say just having laws against it are not enough. Sociologist Carolina Bascunan said bullying has an impact on the quality of education in general.
Bascunan, who is from Paraguay and has advanced degrees in rights of children, said policies fall short because they are focused on damage control and not on prevention. She would rather see prevention and educational programs than just laws punishing people.
“You not only have to work with the children, but with the entire educational community and the family, because it is the entire system that excuses and encourages the violence, and that must be in charge of preventing and eradicating it,” she said.
Indeed, bullying does affect the quality of education though. A 2011 study by the United Nations UNESCO group, called CEPAL in Spanish, showed how much of an impact it could have. There were 91,000 students surveyed in 16 South American nations, all sixth graders, to see what the impact of bullying is.
Bolivia was very close to the South American average that showed 51 percent of students surveyed had experienced bullying in some form. The average for South America was 25 percent for verbal bullying and 17 percent for physical bullying.
This study showed there was a 9.55 percent decrease in math scores and a 9.68 reduction in reading scores for people who have been bullied. For students who just witnessed bullying, or had classroom disruptions because of bullying, there was a five or six percent decrease in both reading and math scores. It was interesting that in areas where there is a lot of bulling, the reading and math scores were not significantly affected.
Often bullies continue to be bullies and victims continue to be victims even into adulthood unless the pattern is broken. Sylvana Giachero is a Paraguayan psychologist who does seminars throughout Latin America on bullying, and mobbing, which is an adult form of bullying.
She said often there is a “scapegoat” effect in the work place, and it can be done in school as well. One person is generally blamed for everything, and picked on by everyone in the group, thus becoming the scapegoat for all the evils in the workplace. This is what is called mobbing, she said, and is often the group against an individual at work.
Giachero also said bullying is not a conflict, and therefore there should be no mediation as though it were. She cited domestic abuse, and rhetorically asked if that meant you should only allow a husband to beat his wife on weekdays as a mediation between the two. She said to mediate is to side with the bully and further victimize the person being bullied.
She said it is also important to not blame the victim, which favors the bully as well. She said most of all, people should not ignore the problem of bullying or mobbing.
Churches have also become involved in the problem of bullying. The Catholic teachers group, and the Episcopal Commission for Education held a national meeting in Cochabamba last year to address concerns.
“Attacks begin in school classrooms and then in society” said Raquel Reynolds, president of the Bolivian Catholic Education group.
The meeting concluded that parents should be move involved with students in schools, and encouraged them to reflect on priorities.
“Today we live in moral relativism, idolatry of money and selfishness,” said a speaker at the event, and she suggested that leads to a culture where bullying is more acceptable.