Studies from various private and government sources indicate that bullying in Taiwan is seriously underestimated. According to bullying statistics from a 2009 Ministry of Education (MOE) survey, 10.3% of Taiwanese students had suffered from bullying. Another 10.1% reported having bullied others. Approximately 28.6% of survey participants had personally witnessed bullying behavior.
Although teachers and parents were aware of bullying problems, students’ hesitancy to report incidents made it difficult to evaluate just how extensive bullying was. News stories of bullying incidents in December of 2008 brought this issue back into the public eye. In one incident, a group of nine students physically and sexually abused one of their peers in Changhua County. In another report, a junior high pupil was stripped and brutally beaten in Tainan City.
In 2010, a national survey exposed the inroads of primary bullying and middle school bullying in Taiwan’s schools. Of the children surveyed, approximately one out of every five had experienced verbal or physical bullying. One out of every 10 students had suffered from cyberbullying. Sadly enough, out of all these bullying cases, only .06% wound up being reported by students. In other words, only 3,000 out of 5 million Taiwanese students reported being bullied.
How Schools Handle Bullying in Taiwan
Taiwan’s Ministry of Education (MOE) is particularly concerned about bullying in Taiwanese schools. In February of 2011, the agency introduced the ‘Friendly Campus Week’ program to promote mutual respect and acceptance among students. Through such activities as open dialogues, skits and posters, the program encourages student interaction and promotes bullying awareness so students will feel more confident reporting bullying acts.
Deputy Minister of Education Wu Tsai-shun feels moral education will also help to prevent bullying. “Character education is fundamental, so teachers are asked to go beyond their subject matter and help students learn how to be good people,” he said.
In an effort to provide more help with student affairs, the MOE revised its National Education Law to increase the number of guidance teachers and social workers in schools to coincide with the number of classes. The MOE also initiated a 24 hr. bullying hotline for students having problems with bullying, drugs or gangs.
Schools also collaborate with private organizations such as the Good Friend Mission, a social service center in Taipei, to help stop bullying acts. The center works directly with bullies, uncovering what causes their violent behavior and offering training to help them change for the better. Since its inception in 1973, the Good Friend Mission has helped numerous underprivileged children and teens overcome bullying tendencies.
According to Samuel Shih, the center’s director, “…bullying derives from broken relationships.” Shih believes that bullies are often treated unfairly by teachers and their peers due to their poor academic performance. “Teachers need to learn to listen to students, pay attention to their innermost needs, and give them assistance when they face difficulties,” says Shih. “Grades should not be given so much importance.”
In Taiwan, teachers often categorize their students according to grades and test scores. ‘Good’ students are those with good grades and high test scores while students who do poorly are considered ‘failures.’ Teachers tend to pay more attention to ‘good’ students and mete out more punishments to those with poor academic performance.
“When treated in this way, students may have no choice but to seek an identity somewhere else,” Shih commented. Students who join gangs in school often do so to be accepted, even though it threatens their future.
Bullying and Suicide in Taiwan: What’s the Connection?
In 2013, suicide was the second most common cause of death among high school and university students 15-24 years of age. According to the Taiwan Suicide Center, most youth suicides occur due to personal relationship problems, academic pressures and issues with bullying. A total of 166 youth suicides were reported in 2013; victims were between the ages of 14-25. Approximately 20% of the suicides were attributed to school related problems, drug abuse and mental health issues.
Chang China-ming, professor of psychiatry at Chang Gung Memorial Hospital, treated various bullying victims for emotional problems related to their ordeal. Some of Chang’s patients were high-risk for suicide due to feeling they were low achievers and emotionally and socially flawed. Many bullying victims lack self-esteem and receive little support from family, teachers, or other adults.
“Many parents don’t even know their children have suicidal tendencies,” said Chang. “When children have declining academic performance, take frequent sick leave, have symptoms of self-mutilation or verbally express negative thoughts, all these are warning signs.”
By keeping their eyes open for bullying signs, parents can get their kids the help they need before they attempt something as drastic as suicide. If not dealt with properly, the long term effects of bullying can ruin a young teen’s life.
Liu Chung-cheng, head of MOE’s Special Education Department, encourages victims to report bullying behavior. “Victims of bullying should speak out with courage,” Liu says, “so that their case can be handled properly. All schools have letterbox and e-mail addresses to report bullying problems. Our ministry has a hotline for reporting school bullying on 0800-200-885.”
From bullying information gathered by the MOE, there were 205 bullying cases reported in 2013. Although that’s 88 less cases than reported in 2012, the figure is still high enough to cause problems among Taiwanese youth.
Cyberbullying Statistics in Taiwan
News reports of cyberbullying cases have emerged in countries all over the world and Taiwan is no exception. In April of 2015, 24 year old Peng Hsin-y, aka ‘Cindy’, a popular Taiwanese entertainer, took her own life after enduring months of relentless cyberbullying attacks. Her death launched massive political debates concerning the need for laws against internet bullying in Taiwan.
In December of 2015, the Child Welfare League Foundation (CWLF) conducted a random study of cyberbullying in Taiwanese schools to get a clearer picture of how online bullying was affecting the lives of Taiwanese children and teens.
The following facts about cyberbullying emanated from this study:
- Approximately 74.1% of students considered online bullying a problem
- More than 76% had personal experience with or witnessed cyberbullying at some point in their lives
- 93.2% of cyberbullying offenses occurred on social media, particularly Facebook, Weibo & Twitter; 48% occurred on communication apps like WhatsApp, LINE and WeChat
- Most common cyber offenses were verbal attacks (61.1%); hacking into accounts (47.7%); social isolation (46.1%); and revealing private information (40.9%)
- 53.5% of bullying offenses came from teen ‘friends’
- 43% of bullying victims sought help from website managers, teachers or professional counselors; 42% reacted by retaliating
Although parents should supervise their kids’ online activities, CWLF feels cyberbullying can be curtailed if social networks assume greater responsibility for protecting their members and take quicker action to resolve internet bullying issues that arise.
Online Bullying and Freedom of Speech
Despite a push from Taiwan netizens for cyberbullying legislation, Vice Premier Zhang Shan-zheng says there are no special cyberbullying laws in the works to regulate freedom of speech online. The National Communication Committee (NCC) concurs, stating it is fully committed to protecting the freedom of speech of those who use the Internet.
According to NCC Chairman Howard Shyr, Taiwan’s existing laws are capable of covering offenses that occur online. Victims can use Taiwan’s iWIN system to report cyberbullying offenses and current legislation such as the Criminal Law and Children and Youth Welfare Act to file charges against those who perpetrate cyberattacks. Under these laws, offenders could receive a maximum prison sentence of 12 years, depending on the offense.
Bullying in all its forms – whether at school, at work or at home – can ruin people’s lives. School bullying can keep young people from reaching their full potential. Workplace bullying can damage business economy and culture. Parent and sibling bullying can compromise the love and unity of a person’s home. By using as many resources as possible to rid bullying from its society, Taiwan can turn its bullying situation around and create a safer, more productive environment for current and future generations.