Bullying in Guatemala

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Bullying is a real problem in Guatemala. A recent news story gripped the nation when a sixth grade student in Michoacan was attacked and eventually died from his wounds, at school. According to the story, one student choked the boy and he fell to the ground. Other students then began kicking him until he was unconscious. There was an ongoing investigation as of September 2016. Authorities did not say it was bullying, but they did say that often bullying can lead to this type of event, where someone is actually killed.

Bullying in Guatemala is a growing problem as bulling awareness rises. Bullying facts show an increase in bullying cases even though there are laws against it. Cyberbullying laws are also on the books in Guatemala.

Middle school bullying is the most common age for this behavior to start, and that seems true around the world and in Guatemala. It often continues as high school bullying and can continue into adulthood. The primary age though, is the ages of 11-14, as children are learning to define their own personalities.

A study by the Guatemalan Ministry of Education in 2016 said 35.9 percent of students had been bullied in the schools, according to their bullying statistics. This particular study showed bullying in Guatemala going as low as the third grade, where 13 percent said they had been bullied. This study showed a correlation between the students and their environment. It showed bullying decreasing when students felt more positive about their school in general, but bullying increased when students were dissatisfied or had become disinterested in education. This study also showed 23 percent of students had seen other students with weapons in the school. They found when there are more weapons students are more likely to also see bullying.

Guatemalan sociologist Otto Rivera said these ages are the primary ages. He said people also usually do bullying to be seen, so they do it publicly. The reason why people bully  is they want to win approval or standing among their peers. He said according to bullying information, often bullies do what they do because they have been victims of domestic violence. They live where rules are not enforced, boundaries are not kept, and violence seems to be a way of life.

“The Guatemalan society is characterized as racist, sexist, exclusionary and discriminatory, and bullying includes these elements,” says Rivera.

He encourages people to report bullying to the Attorney General. Complaints are supposed to be investigated in the schools, and criminal charges can be brought even against students who have bullied people physically if they have caused bodily harm.

Often bullying is not reported. Most experts agree parents need to watch for signs that their child may be a victim of bullying, and take action when there is such activity happening. Things like losing interest in things they usually enjoy, suddenly doing bad at school or making excuses not to go to school, are just a few of the signs of bullying. Any drastic change in behavior should be a warning sign.

As of April of 2016, 83 complaints of bullying had been reported in Guatemalan schools, 59 in public schools and 24 in private schools. The Human Rights Ombudsman said 26 cases in 2015 was the previous yearly high. Most of the cases happened in Quetzaltenango and Quiche.

As a result the Ministry of Education produced a booklet called “Peaceful Coexistence and Discipline for a Culture of Peace in the Schools. It’s aim is to prevent bullying.

Children’s rights activist Gloria Castro said bullying happens at all levels, and often progresses from verbal to physical. She said physical bullying is a greater concern. Regardless of the age involved, bullying is characterized by intimidation, abuse of power, verbal and then finally physical attacks.

One of the reasons to combat bullying is that it has a detrimental effect on students. It seems obvious victims might struggle, but some studies suggest even being around bullying is also harmful to the learning environment. A 2011 study by UNESCO, a United Nations organization called CEPAL in Spanish, studied 16 Latin American nations to see how much impact bullying had on learning. They surveyed 91,000 students, all sixth graders.

The study interviewed 5,560 students in Guatemala, in 231 schools. This study showed Guatemala students slightly below the regional average in bullying. Of the Guatemala sixth graders, 39 percent said they had experienced bullying in some way, 15 percent said they had been bullied physically and 20 percent said it was verbal. The Latin American average was 51 percent overall, 16 percent for physical bullying and 26 percent for verbal. Students who said they had witnessed bullying were also slightly below the regional average, with 57 percent saying they had witnessed bullying while the regional average was 62 percent.

There were wide differences between students in different countries, and some showed more impact on reading than on math, and vice versa. Guatemalan sixth graders who were victims of bullying had 9.52 percent worse test scores in math than those who were not bullied. Students who were bullied also scored 11 percent lower on reading tests. The average for Latin America was around 9.5 percent for both. Guatemalan students were different though, in how seeing bullying, or how classroom disruptions affected them, showing only a one percent drop in both reading and math scores. The regional average was seven percent for math and six percent for reading.

Cyberbullying is the use of electronics to bully another person. This can be internet bullying like Facebook bullying, or even telephones. With the widespread use of cellphones or smartphones, this is even easier. It has another side though, and can turn on the bully. A recent report said a Miss Teen Universe contestant representing the city of San Cristobal Verapa was disqualified from the pageant after a video circulated of her bullying and slapping another girl. After the video was circulated, the pageant got hundreds of emails and texts calling for her to be disqualified, and she was.

But Cybebullying has dire consequences. Some have estimated several children have killed themselves as a result of bullying, and there have been reports of this in Guatemala. In the country about 10 percent of kids skip school, and about 40 percent of high school students do not feel teachers listen to them when they report bullying, even though they are encouraged to do so.

Bullying continues into adulthood if not stopped when they do so as children. There is office bullying and workplace bullying. The long term effects of bullying in Guatemala are anxiety disorders and depression among adults. Often bullies continue to bully and victims continue to be victims if the cycle is not stopped.

The best way of how to handle bullying, experts say, is to get the whole community involved. Parents, teachers and students all need to work together. Those that witness bullying should report it, and those reports should be taken seriously. Parents and teachers need to be watchful for signs, and that is a means of dealing with bullying, Rivera said. He added there needs to be clear and enforced boundaries, and a sense of fairness.

 

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