Bullying in Paraguay is a problem that is being taken more seriously in this landlocked South American nation. There have been suicides related to cyberbullying, and videos of bullying that have become public that have grabbed the nation’s attention. In 2012 Paraguay became one of the few countries to pass a law that made bullying in school specifically illegal and a punishable crime.
In September of 2016, the nation went further and passed a law banning corporal punishment in schools. Some advocates see corporal punishment – paddling – as violence against children, and since an authority figure is doing the punishing, they are linking that to bullying. Paraguay is the 10th nation in South America to take such action.
Scope of the problem
Even with progressive laws being passed, bullying is still an issue in Paraguay. In June of 2016 a video spread like wildfire through social media of a 13 year-old boy being beaten in a bathroom by a group of older children at a school in Encaracion. The five older teens were later charged with a crime, and what made this case unusual was that the video provided solid evidence to make the case. Proving bullying in Paraguay in court has been difficult because often there is no proof or witnesses.
Another case getting national attention from Parguay.com, involves a girl student at a religious school who is a victim of cyberbullying. The girls’ photo was put on social media with insulting language, and when reported, her situation got worse, the news story said. In this case parents say their daughter has been harassed and nothing is being done, but with media reports it is getting the attention of the Ministry of Education and Culture.
Bullying is a problem throughout Latin America, and no doubt the whole world, but a study by The United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America (called CEPAL in Spanish) gave some comparisons for the region. According to the study, Paraguay is a little below average when it comes to the amount of bullying that happens. The study also considered violence and counted being robbed as one metric of the problem. The study focused on Sixth Graders throughout Latin America, and interviewed 92,000 students. Most bullying happens between the ages of 11 and 14, and sixth graders would be in the middle of that range. In Paraguay 4,800 students in 200 schools were surveyed.
According to the survey in 2011 showing bullying statistics, a total of 46.23 percent of students in Paraguay said they had been bullied in some form. The survey showed 16 percent had been physically bullied and 24 percent had been verbally abused in the previous month. The study showed 32 percent said they had been robbed. Verbal and general bullying were six percent below the regional average, and physical bullying was two percent below.
The study showed that 29 percent of Paraguayan students had witnessed verbal bullying and 32 percent had witnessed physical bullying, both about four percent less than the South American average. The study found there was not a significant difference between social or ethnic backgrounds when it comes to bullying in school. According to bullying information, most of it is middle school bullying, but high school bullying is a close second as far as age groups go.
Effects of bullying on learning
The same CEPAL study also sought to understand bullying and its impact on learning. Interestingly enough it found that bullying does affect learning, but does so in different ways in different countries. The study also found witnessing bullying, or having classrooms disrupted by this behavior also had a negative impact on learning. On the downside, it found that the more bullying is normalized ,the less impact it has on learning for witnesses, but it still affects victims.
The study showed bullying is significant in reading but not for math in Chile and Ecuador. Math was negatively impacted in Colombia and Cuba, but not reading. The study showed bullying had virtually no impact on learning in El Salvador, Guatemala and Peru. Students in Uruguay had lower scores in both math and reading if they had been bullied, or had seen bullying, as were Brazil and, Nicaragua.
In Paraguay the results were striking and showed being a victim of bullying had a significant negative impact on a child’s ability to learn. Reading and math scores both fell by 13 percent when bullied in Paraguay. Witnessing bullying had about a negative seven percent impact on reading and math scores. Paraguayan students seemed equally affected in reading and math more so than any other South American nation. Paraguayan students were more dramatically impacted by bulling, but about average in the effect it had on those who witnessed bullying.
Bullying mean different things in different cultures, but there does seem to be a generally agreed upon definition that is consistent around the world. There is verbal, social, and physical bullying which are the three major types, and more recently internet bullying, also called cyberbullying, has become more of an issue.
Any of these things can happen and be an isolated incident and is not therefore bullying. There must first be an imbalance of power, whether that imbalance is real or only perceived does not seem to matter. The behavior must also be repeated over some period of time, to the point that the victim believes it will keep happening.
Silvana Giachero is a Uruguayan psychologist who works with the bullying issue throughout South America and often hosts seminars and conferences on the issue throughout Latin America calls bullying “a blow to the soul,” and said often a physical blow would be preferable because that can be seen and addressed. Often bullying is hidden and causes far more internal damage to a child than a physical blow would cause. She has estimated that one in five teenage suicides in Latin America is caused by bullying.
Giachero says bullying is systematic and repeated harassment over a period of time. She sees six months as a good benchmark for defining when a behavior has become bullying. While she feels it is a serious problem throughout Latin America, she also believes if something happens just once, or even a few times, that is not necessarily a problem.
Taking it seriously
While Paraguay does seem to be taking the issue seriously, people like Giachero say that often it is not. She says more needs to be done in the schools for victims of bullying. She said schools often ignore the problem, and that may be because teachers are not as equipped to deal with the issue as they could be. Bullying facts show there is still a problem even in places like Paraguay where there is at least an effort to solve the problem.
Giachero said victims start to feel like it is their own fault, which makes their depression and condition worse, if it is not addressed. It also makes them less likely to report being bullied.
“Their own environment tells them it is because of something they have done, that they are a wimp, different or don’t deserve respect. This re-victimizes the boy and makes him feel guilty and worthless,” she said. “Bullying is a bacterium that grows and pollutes the psyche and the family, and ends in either divorce of suicide.”
Who are bullies?
There has been a lot of research into the effect of bullying, and the long range effects it might have on people and what causes bullying. Now more people are also trying to figure out why it is people bully others as bullying cases get more attention. A study in the Netherlands at The University of Groningen, in cooperation with United States researchers, did some in depth studies and came up with some new ideas on why people bully, or to answer the question of what is a bully.
Traditional wisdom has said bullies lack self esteem, and do not feel good about themselves as the main characteristics. However the University of Groningen study suggests there may be more to the picture. The new study says the primary motive is to win approval from one’s peers, or to improve one’s social standing in a group. In most cases boys pick on boys and girls pick on girls. While there is some going across gender lines, and there is sibling bullying, the reasons are largely the same.
While there may be some insecurity at some level, “Bullies aren’t looking to be loved, but they are looking to be noticed,” says study researcher Rene Veenstra, PhD, who is a professor at the University of Groningen. “They are often perceived as very popular.”
Veenstra also said kids realize early on in life that there is a social order, and a social status, and they learn from observation that this can be gained in some way. Kids want to feel admired, and they can appear stronger by bullying a weaker person, that helps them achieve their goal. The thing that is against popular wisdom though, is that popular and well liked kids can be bullies just as easily as those that are not.
Bullies are also likely to live in single parent homes, or otherwise not get as much attention at home as they perhaps should. These students are also more prone to alcohol and substance abuse. They tend to be more aggressive in general. They are also very likely to also have been bullied at some time.
Who are the victims
Bullies generally pick on the weaker students. They are seeking approval from other kids that are already popular or well thought of, or even strong, so picking on them would be counter productive. Another kid they can easily beat is one they would likely pick on. There are also some similarities between bullies and their victims. Both generally do have low self esteem, According to the American Psychology Association. Both typically can be aggressive in nature, have negative attitudes about themselves, lack problem solving skills, and prone to depression. Both victims and bullies often have difficult family situations.
Often victims will not know what to do, and will not report the problem. Sometimes they are afraid to, and sometimes they think it won’t be taken seriously because many times they are told no one likes a snitch. There may be several types of bullying in Paraguay, but they all seem to have the same effect.
The Latin American expert Sylvana Giachero says the important thing is to see a change in behavior. Some children are naturally more timid, or more anxious than others. If a child is not naturally sociable, then their being not sociable would not be a concern, she said. When there is a change that last more than a few days, a parent or teachers should investigate and find out what is going on, she said. Bulling awareness is an important part of prevention, she added.
Paraguay is one of the few countries that has laws against bullying. The law, called Law 4633, defines bullying and sets rights for victims, and provides governmental programs to help schools deal with the issue. It is the type of law the many, including activists in South America, have long advocated. The law seeks to “define, prevent and intervene” in all the various kinds of harassment that happens in schools, and to empower school officials to take action when needed. The law is under the direction of the Ministry of Education and Culture, and apply to all types of schools.
The law seeks to regulate behavior based on international standards of human rights and rights for people of all genders and sexual orientations. It is effective in all schools, as well as at any school related event whether on the school campus or not.
It allows individual schools to set some of their own definitions and policies, as well as what to do with people who are judged to have been bullying. This allows for some local control, but it does empower them with the right to take action to stop the problem.
Schools are now empowered to create preventative measures as well as intervention measures to stop bullying. The law also provides for funding for schools to implement programs designed to prevent bullying and to enforce rules. They will be funded by the Ministry of Education and Culture.
There have been cases where people have been charged with crimes as a result of this law. Some older children can be tried as adults and even jailed. However, the main thing this law does is empower the schools, and it establishes that bullying is a real problem.
The law also establishes hot lines, or phone numbers, where people can get help if they are being bullied. They may be put in touch with a prosecutor that can pursue justice in a situation involving a harassment. The government of Paraguay has also set up an anti-bullying website called “Contra el bullying” with a lot of information to help people there deal with the problem.
While the law, and governmental support, is something advocates had long called for, they do not see this as a victory or an end to the problem. Giachero wants to see more open dialog about the issue. She says bullying can be stopped by empowering the victim and raising awareness about bullying awareness. She said the more people discuss the issue, the less power bullies will have over their victims. She wants to change the political history of denial that exists in Latin America.
“That’s why I say the law does not stop this, only regulates it. What we must work on is prevention.” she said.
The first case that was brought to justice under this law involved two teen girls who were bullying a student over a few years. The ruling came in 2014, even though the law was passed almost two years earlier by the state. In this case two teenage girls were sentenced to six months of community service and ordered to get counseling. They were accused of harassing a classmate for more than a year at the Catholic School of Asuncion. The suit says the parents reported it to school officials but got no response.
The victim’s stories of bullying in Paraguay fit all the classic examples of bullying. The two girls excluded the victim from their group and tried to get other students to do the same. They sent the girl text messages that were threatening and demeaning, and insulted her in front of other students.
Advances in technology have made communication much easier, and it is now available for just about everyone around the world. While this is good, it also opens the doors for new ways to bully people. Cyberbullying is facebook bullying or internet bullying, done electronically. It is very similar to regular bullying, but there are a lot more options over the Internet. Facts about cyberbullying show that it is becoming much more common as far a bullying in Paraguay.
Often pictures of people are posted, sometimes these are pictures they do not want to be seen. Or making statements about people to humiliate them.
In March of 2014 there was the report of a 15-year-old girl in the city of Itagua, who committed suicide after being bullied online. It was reported that photos of her “in an intimate time with her boyfriend” posted online. This came after months of harassment, and that apparently was the last thing she could handle, so she decided to end her life. Report said she hanged herself in her bedroom at her parents house.
There is also a practice called “grooming” where adults talk teenagers into sending them photos of themselves either nude or doing a sex act, by means of a cell phone or computer. This violates pornography and child abuse laws, and also falls under Paraguay’s anti bullying law. While bullying is normally associated with people of the same age harassing another person, the idea of adults abusing children in this way is also considered bullying. There is also a special hotline in Paraguay to report this type of bullying, in addition to the normal bullying hotline number.
“Sexting,” which is sending sexually explicit images or words via text is also considered cyberbullying. These photos can then be used to blackmail the victim, or to bully them in some way.
There are several resources available in Paraguay to help people who are victims of cyberbullying, as a result of the passage of Law 4633.
There is a specialized unit for computer crimes, which relates to all types of internet based criminal activity. It includes cyberbullying, as well as theft identification and basically anything that can be done on the Internet.
Another specialized unit deals with trafficking and sexual exploitation of children. In Paraguay bullying would fall under this as it is abuse of children. This particular office would be involved if a parent or adult were abusing or bullying a child.
The Ministry of Education and Culture is essentially the department of education for Paraguay, and they are in charge of the laws regarding bullying. This department provides educational materials related to bullying, and has help lines available for victims. The department offers facts about cyberbylling as well as facts about face to face bullying.
Many activists in Latin America are wanting cyberbullying laws. The Paraguayan law against bullying includes cyberbullying.
Whether it is cyberbullying or face to face bullying, most experts agree prevention is the key to stopping the problem.
It has been noted that often bullies pick on people who are different, or who appear anxious or weak. They normally pick on people when they find someone they believe they will be able to bully and get away with it.
This is why it is important to strengthen those that might be vulnerable.
One thing that can be done is to try to instill a sense of confidence in your child, especially if they seem anxious or have other traits that might make them victims. Help the child become more socially relaxed, which will aid confidence. Helping them become more social will help them develop friends, and it is true that those with few or no friends are more likely to be bullied. Help the child to see his or her real worth, and to believe in that worth. This can be done with positive words of affirmation, or help the child to develop some skills or things that they can be good at, which will help self confidence.
When a child has friends, and feels good about themselves at least to some degree, that will be apparent with body language and how they act. That makes them less of a target for bullies because they don’t look like someone who will be an easy target.
It is also important to stop bullying if it is being reported. Take it seriously when a child makes the claim and see if it is really happened. Often it will be over quickly if the problem is addressed. If a child continues to show symptoms, it may be good to get some outside help for them.
It is also important to distinguish between kidding around and bullying, which is a judgment call people have to make.
Always report bullying. Parents and teachers should always encourage kids to report bullying, and to not ignore it, in which case the situation might just get worse.
Experts also suggest kids speak up when they see someone being bullied, and helping the victim. While there is a lot of attention paid to stopping the bully, people in Paraguay are also considering how they can help children to become empowered to not become a victim. Bullies tend to pick on those that appear weak, so empowering children to be self confident seems to be a good step in that regard.
One thing that has become clear, is that bullying tends to continue throughout one’s life if it is not stopped in childhood. Those are bullies continue to be bullies, and those who are victims in childhood are again victims as adults. These are some of the long term effects. People who do either may also have more health issues that people not involved in this practice,. A book comparing college students in Finland and Argentina, by Helen Cowie showed, with statistics, how the pattern continues into college and beyond. She suggested that often women adjust better in college to having been bullied than men do, but it remains true that the person who is a victim remains a victim until they are able to convince themselves to not do so anymore.
In Latin America, there is a practice of adult bullying called “mobbing” and more often with adults it ends up being a group bullying someone in the workplace than necessarily one individual being the culprit. As adults bullying is often used to control others or to protect one’s position with a company. Someone may be bullied if the bully sees them as a threat to their position, whether that be in a business or an organization. At work the bullying continues as it did in school. Now there is office bullying where primary bullying was in the playground at school.
The Uruguayan psychologist Sylvana Giachero also works extensively with adult bullying, office bullying and workplace bullying. She says there is often a “code of silence” around workplace bullying, and that employers pressure workers to keep that code in place. Giachero is not totally in favor of another law to address the issue. She believes more open communication will empower victims and that is what stops bullies.
There is another side to adult bullying though, and that is one of victims empowering and even encouraging the bully. An article in Forbes Magazine, says sometimes people actually enable bullies by not acting properly, or by not setting boundaries. Things like allowing someone to yell at you, or to disrupt your meeting, without taking any action to prevent or stop their behavior. The article says we should end the enabling that actually encourages bullies. You could do something like locking the door when the meeting begins, so the habitually late person who always comes in late and disrupts, will not be able to do so. Or if someone starts yelling, you simply end the meeting and walk away, telling them their behavior is the reason.
Universities in Europe have put a lot of effort into studying bullying and on how to handle bullying. One such program is called KiVa, that was started at the University of Turkru in Finland. The program is getting some attention in South America, and leaders in Paraguay have shown interest as well. Programs or curriculum is being developed for other nations by the university. The KiVa program takes a different approach in that it is aimed at changing the entire culture. It involves everyone in a school, including students and parents.
A Netherlands study showed after one year the incidence of bullying was cut in half and was shown to be effective in how to stop bullying.
“The effectiveness of the program is based on the fact that everyone is responsible for the well-being of the group. Thereby, there are no bystanders in bullying. Resources are channeled to promoting involvement, and not all energy is used to help victims and to educate bullies,” Groningen researcher Gijs Huitsing, said in quotes.
The curriculum involves things like having children role play different roles, both the role of the bully and the victim in the hope that it will raise awareness and empathy of all students. Prevention, intervention and monitoring are the keys to this program. The aim is to change the culture from thinking bullying is a normal part of life, to thinking it is not normal and not tolerated.
The program involves curriculum for certain age groups, but the creators stress it is not a one time thing, or even a one year thing. It is a fundamental change in attitude toward bullying and it involves every person in the school. A policy of nobullying is the goal.
Even though strides have been made, there are still issues in Paraguay when it comes to bullying. Even with laws passed and schools empowered to install programs, the country was criticized for not doing enough. Mr. Dainius Puras, of the United Nations Human Rights Commission, visited Paraguay late last year and gave a speech on human rights and standards of living. He said that while there have been positive actions in meeting the needs of children in the health system, and in quality of life, more needs to be done.
“Serious threats and barriers to the right to holistic development of children remain, including corporal punishment in public and private setting, and a lack of comprehensive approach to address bullying and other forms of violence in schools.”
There have also been reports of school violence in the nation’s capital
In 2013 it got to the point that two rival schools finally signed an agreement to stop attacking and bullying each other. There had been many attacks between the two, along with a lot of drug and alcohol issues. They did reach an agreement to stop the violence, but it remains to be seen how long it will last.
Paraguay’s ministry of education spokesperson Alba Martinez said there are also a lot of cases of bullying. Since there is a law against bullying, more than 50 cases have been prosecuted by her office, but she said many still go unreported. She added that bullying must be reported in order for the laws to do any good, and she said parents need to become more involved in the issue.
She blamed parents and their lack of involvement in the process to some degree. She said 500 parents had been asked to come to school to talk about prevention of bullying, but only 20 attended. Some might call this blaming the parents, but children who have parents heavily involved in their lives tend to neither be bullied no do they become bullies.
While progress has been made, and there are some laws in effect and some help available, it appears there is still a problem with bullying in Paraguay. As the country tries to address poverty and other needs children have, it may reach some more goals in the area of bullying as well. There seems to be a good amount of bullying awareness, and advocates say that is a step in the right direction. Advocates like Giachero and Alba Martinez say it is important to involve everyone in the community in finding solutions for the problem of bullying, and that is true whether one is talking about children or adults. Empowering victims is a step that is getting more attention as it has become clear that bullies tend to only pick on those they perceive as weaker.