In Bullying Around the World

Bullying in Urguay

According to a UNICEF and Secondary Educational Survey taken in 2014, Uruguay ranks fourth among South American nations in the number of cases of bullying. The study showed Argentina, Peru, Costa Rica as the top three, followed by Uruguay according to bullying statistics.

According to statistics  on bullying, as many as 30 percent of sixth graders say they are constantly harassed, which is the hallmark of Bullying in Uruguay. As many as half of all students say they have been bullied at some point. Middle school bullying is the most common age for it to happen.

The effects of bullying in Uruguay are beginning to be understood more in this South American country, and perhaps being taken more seriously. Many psychologists in the country say more needs to be done though. There are currently no laws against bullying in Uruguay, and there is virtually no legal help available for children.

Silvana Giachero is a psychologist who organizes conferences in Uruguay and other South American nations, said bullying is “a blow to the soul” Gianchero believes bullying is very serious. She said in some ways it might actually be preferable to be physically hit and wounded physically. She said a physical wound can be seen, healed and action can be taken. An emotional wound is much harder to detect.

She estimates that one in five teen suicides in Uruguay are directly related to the victim having been bullied.

She will define bullying as systematic and repeated harassment over a long period of time, such as six months or longer. Just a few times does not usually cause traumatic effects, but when it has gone on a long time the effects are much more pronounced. There is some sibling bullying, but that does not make up most bullying cases.


The problem

According to statistics on bullying in Uruguay there seems to be no difference in social class when it comes to bullying, and there is not a lot of bullying across social classes either. Students in cities like Montevideo, Carrasco, Union and Prado were studied, and 45 percent of the students in higher socio economic groups felt bullied, and 42 percent of those in lower economic groups reported bullying.

Bullying occurs at all ages, but the report showed it is most common between the ages of 11 and 14, which is when kids are learning their place in society. What causes bullying seems to be a need to make oneself look better by degrading someone else.

There is less bullying at the high school level, but there is more violence and the two may be related. The statistics also show that students who do better at school are more likely to be bullied than those who do not. Primary bullying remains at younger ages, according to bullying facts.

The wounds inflicted are psychological. Physical wounds heal, but often emotional or mental wounds are carried with the person a very long time and that can create life long difficulties, Giachero said.

The statistics also showed there is very little difference between males and females when it comes to either bullying or being bullied, though there is a slightly higher number of male offenders.

Some people are wanting to hold the schools accountable for not intervening, or not catching problems.

“It was very painful to know that your child is humiliated and nobody throws a lifeline in the school in which you give your confidence,” a health worker in a school in La Blanqueada said.

There seems to be no move at the national level for a program to fight bullying, and each school has its own policies, if it has a policy at all.

There seem to be few resources available on how to stop bullying in the schools, according to various studies. Bullying has been around a very long time, but some are seeing the long term effects and wanting more done in the schools.

A study of Latin America in 2011 by the United Nations, compared 16 countries, and found bullying to be a significant issue in every country except for Cuba, where it is at or below 10 percent. This particular study focused on sixth graders in all of Latin America. Uruguay reported, in 2011, that 50.13 percent of students had experienced some type of bullying at least once, and the regional average is 51.12. Uruguay was higher than the average when it came to students being threatened or insulted, with 31.07 reporting this, and the Latin America average is 26.63. However, Uruguay was below the regional average on being robbed or physically bullied. Among Uruguayan students, 32.42 percent reported being robbed, and the regional average is 39.39. Only 10.10 percent of the Uruguayan students said they had been physically bullied, well below the 16.48 regional average, and second lowest only to Cuba.

About 45 percent of the Uruguayan sixth graders said they had witnessed bullying, whether it be verbal, physical or robbery, which was slightly higher than the average for the entire region.
Blaming the victim

Giachero says there needs to be more done in the schools to help victims of harassment and bullying. She said they often look the other way or ignore the problem. She said there is a false profile of who victims are.

“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.”

The person being bullied then seems themselves as the problem, which makes their condition only worse. Usually victims are already apprehensive or stressed already, which makes them a target for bullies. With little public support in the schools or in the culture, it is hard to get help, so the problem just grows and gets worse.

Signs to watch for

Parents often do not even know their child is being bulled, and teachers also do not know. The student is afraid to report the bullying because they think nothing will be done, or that they deserve what they are getting. Parents should watch for signs and intervene if they see certain things happening. Those signs may include making excuses to stay out of school, having property lost or stolen, and depression.

Any of these things could happen at random, and an isolated incident could be just an isolated incident with little meaning. Psychologist Magdelena Robiana said it is changes in behavior that are the red flag. If you notice any of the above symptoms and they start being repeated, that should be a sign something is wrong. If a child normally is not real social, that may not be unusual, for instance. It is just when it is unusual for them, a parent or teacher should become concerned, she said. Parents and teachers should listen to the stories of their children and take them seriously, which is one way of achieving a nobullying situation.

Sociologist Carolina Bascuñán told IPS that one aspect that tends to be forgotten is that bullying not only affects the way students get along, but also has an impact on the quality of education. “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.

Taking it seriously

Psychologists such as Silvana Giachero say a big part of the problem is that the nation, and the school system in general, are not taking the issue seriously enough. She points to the lack of a nationwide policy or program to help students in the schools as an example. She said very often school officials look the other way, or refuse to see bullying as a real problem.

But as more research is being done, it will perhaps be taken more seriously as a real problem. There are reports of school officials blaming the victim of bullying. Often new kids in school are bullied, and they are accused of failing to integrate themselves, and are thus blamed for what happens to them.

This could be changing though. Chile has adopted a nationwide policy on bullying, according to a story on the Inter Press News Service, a South American news agency. Chile is the first country in South America to adopt a formal policy against bullying. Studies have shown a national policy does help, and there are more calls among activists in Uruguay to have such a policy created for this nation.


There is also the issue of cyberbullying, which is the use of social media like Facebook of Snapchat, both of which are popular in Uruguay. The symptoms or signs of harassment are the same, but are a little more subtle.

Cyberbullying has developed as the Internet has developed, and especially younger people are drawn to social media. It has gotten more attention in Europe, but bullying over Facebook and other social media has been blamed for some suicides even in cases of bullying in Uruguay. Using social media for cyberbullying is in some ways more hurtful. There are many examples of people using social media to harass others. Even making threats or saying thing about people on Facebook should be considered bullying.

In personal situations a person can at least run away from their oppressor, but social media is always there and it is harder to escape. Bullying used to be limited to the playground, in school or in public. Now kids are bullied over the Internet at all hours, making it harder for them to handle the situation. Additionally, when something is posted on Facebook, for instance, it is there for the world to see, perhaps adding to the embarrassment or shame for the person who is the victim.

While “regular” face to face bullying has gone on for as long as there have been people, cyberbullying is a new level to the old problem. On the positive side, if a victim is willing to come forward, cyberbullying is much easier to prove than what happens in person. There is an electronic record that can be traced.

At present there are not cyberbullying laws, and activists are calling for them to be considered as Facebook bullying and internet bullying become more mainstream in the schools.

High school violence

There is also concern about violence in the schools, particularly at the high school level. Studies show most bullying takes place before kids reach high school, but it happens there as well, and there have been many cases of violence in Uruguayan schools. For years the violence has been the problem authorities wanted to address, and some are starting to see that bullying may be at the root of that violence. High school bullying is a major problem in Uruguay, but it starts earlier experts agree.

A study at the University of Montevideo in 2015, done by Adriana Aristimuno and Juan Carlos Noya, found that correlation between bullying and violence in the schools. Their study sought to show reasons for both, and they also examined the roles of the family in both people who are perpetrators and victims of bullies. Their studies showed there was a strong correlation between how much parents are involved in the lives of their children and bullying.

Their research confirmed that most bullying happens at the ages of 11-14 generally. One interesting thing they noted was that in Uruguay, girls are just as likely as boys to do violent bullying, which is different than what many other nations have found. They did not know why this was the case, but it seems girls can be just as aggressive as their male counterparts.

Their studies said as many as 10 percent of Montevideo high school students have experienced physical bullying of some kind, either physical violence of having their property stolen. Even so, verbal bullying is still by far the most prevalent form of bullying in the high schools.

Social issues

The study also examined the effect of the modern age on the society at large in Uruguay. It notes that there are more single parent – usually mother only – families, and that there are more divorces than ever. It noted that the decline of the family structure is eroding a sense of security that children used to feel in Uruguay, and that can lead to children becoming either bullies or victims, dependent on other factors.

It also noted a rise in consumerism and electronic devices such as social media, has led to more isolation. There is more connectivity between their peers, but less with parents.

It found a strong correlation between a good relationship between fathers and sons in having well adjusted children, who do not become bullies or victims of bullies. It also found many victims have overly protective mothers, usually who also do not have a father figure in the home. The study showed a correlation between parent involvement with students lives as a very big factor. It did not however, show any correlation between career paths or educational levels as far as a predictor of bullying. A single parent who is heavily involved with their children can have a more positive effect than a two parent family who are not involved.

There is also a “code of silence” in the schools among younger people in Uruguay, and that is true among adults as well. This is where people do not get involved, and don’t speak about having been bullied or even having seen it taking place. This tends to result in them supporting the bully unintentionally.

Also in the Uruguayan high schools, there are lot of overage students, who have failed grades and repeated several grads. This has led to some other social problems, and could be contributing to some of the bullying and violence that is being experienced in the schools.

Role of schools

The study, like many other studies, criticize the fact that there is no current policy in the county, or many laws in effect, that protect victims of bullies. Some individual schools do have some policies, but there needs to be a more systematic approach, the study showed.

The study suggests teachers be trained on how to help students relate to each other, a form of integration of all students into the group. There should be more integration or communication between teachers and parents about individual students to help those that are victims of bullying, and to correct those that are doing violence.

It also said schools should do more surveillance to catch offenders, and establish means of intervening in situations when necessary. There needs to be sanctions, or punishment, for bullying as well. At the classroom level, there should be more protection of victims, and leaders should be identified among students who can help.

There were three measures that could be done in classrooms:

  • Not allowing harassment of students
  • help those who suffer violence or bullying
  • Integrate students who are easily isolated, who could become either a bully or a victim.

It recommended schools train teachers on issues of violence and bullying. It also said the schools need to solve the lack of regulations on bullying, and on cyberbullying. The study largely blames the schools for failing to protect children, and for failing to detect problems at an early stage. The study concludes that schools can do more to help children develop into adults, and that creating a favorable environment for that should be seen as a right owed to children.

Impact on Education

A study done by The United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America (called CEPAL in Spanish) did a detailed study on the region in 2011, and found that in all Latin American countries being a victim of a bully caused academic performance to suffer. Surprisingly enough, it also found that being a bully, or even just witnessing bullying take place, also tends to have a negative impact on scholastic performance. The study interviewed, through surveys, 91,223 sixth grade students in 15 Latin American Nations to reach its conclusions. Other studies have shown that the ages of 10-14 are when most bullying happens, and sixth graders are usually in the middle of that age range.

The study concluded that bullying is a significant problem throughout Latin America. It found that victims suffer in reading and math in every country. It also found that students in classrooms where there were disruptions caused by aggressive behavior, suffered from lower academic performance overall than those students that did not have such interruptions.

The study also found that as bullying becomes more normalized, or accepted as normal, it has a less negative effect on school performance. In schools where there is a lot of bullying, violence and disruptions, there was less difference in school performance between victims and those who had not been victims. The greatest difference was in schools where bullying is not the norm.

The significance of this study is that it is the first one to find a direct link between school performance and bullying. Other studies have delved into emotional and psychological, as well as social impacts.

The study supports activists who say students need to be able to attend school without fear, in a save environment that promotes positive peer relations, in order to learn at their best. This study shows that learning itself is impaired when there is bullying, and it effects everyone involved – the victim, the bully and those witnessing it happen.

This particular study called on schools to accept responsibility in setting an environment that is good for learning, and to take bullying seriously. They also noted that most programs so far have focused on training teachers in dealing with bullying. While this is a positive step, the study’s authors said in general a more student-centered approach would be better, one that focused on individual behavior.

Regional differences

The study compared the impact of bullying between all the nations in Latin America, and it found there are wide differences in how much difference bullying makes on student academic performance. The UN study worked with a lot of students in each of the 16 countries. For Uruguay, 218 schools, 303 classrooms, and 6,500 students were surveyed. Uruguay was one of the biggest participants, in the top four in all three categories.

For instance, 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. Interestingly enough, 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, Nicaragua and Paraguay. The study did not delve into why these differences might exist, but it is clear that Uruguayan students are hampered in both math and reading when there is bullying present.

The study showed that throughout Latin America, there was little relationship between bullying and one’s socio-economic level, but the parents cultural level did seem to lesson some of the bullying.

Why people bully?

What is a bully? A lot of effort has been put into finding solutions, and to help victims of bulling. In Uruguay there seems to be a lack of rules in place in the schools. The question remains though, as to why do people harass or bully other people.

But the question remains as to why people do this behavior in the first place. There must be some type of reason. A United States study, in conjunction with the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, tried to tackle this issue. It has been long thought that kids who pick on other kids have low self esteem, generally feel stressed and have poor social skills. There is some truth to all this but

Recent studies at the University of Groningen has some new ideas.

The studies are now saying the primary motivation for bullying is to win approval from others, or to gain social status. Boys seek approval from other boys in their class, and girls do the same. Usually boys pick on boys and girls on girls, but it goes both ways, and apparently for the same reason.

Kids want to feel accepted and admired, and they find bullying works so the keep doing it. It can be based on insecurity to some degree, but it can be popular and well liked kids who do the bullying. Even at very young ages, children are aware of social hierarchy, and want to move up the scale. Bullying is one way to get that.

“Bullies aren’t looking to be loved, but they are looking to be noticed,” says study researcher Rene Veenstra, PhD, who is a professor of sociology at Holland’s University of Groningen. “They are often perceived as very popular.”

So bullies may not be the outcasts that many once believed to be the case. It could just as well be the popular kid just looking for even more approval or social status among his or her peers.

There does not seem to be a profile of who is likely to become a bully, as they come from all social and economic groups. It seems to be a certain personality that has a need to feel superior, and is able to push someone around in order to get that feeling.

There also needs to be a victim for this to happen.  Things like low self esteem, anxiety, and even having overly protective parents make a child an easier target for bullies. Oddly enough these same characteristics are often present in bullies. One of the reasons why people bully is that they perceive another person as weak and think they can get away with it. Unfortunately there are also people who feel they are weak and feel powerless to stop the bully, which feeds the bully and makes him or her do it more. Developing coping skills, and helping children deal with other issues, could help stop bullying.

Another factor is that bullying breeds bullying. Most bullies have been bullied at some point in their life.

When a bully finds his or her actions are not having the desired effect, they tend to stop with that person at least. Teaching kids how to handle bullying would seem to be a great place to start in stemming the tide of the problem.

The future

In late 2015, the Uruguayan Dept of Health, in conjunction with Cambridge University, released a book called Towards a more Effective Violence Prevention Policy in Uruguay. The study does focus on violence, but it recognizes that violence is born in bullying and that the two are very much related.

It was one of the first studies to also identify the perpetrators. It found that 17 percent of students admitted to having committed at least one violent act in the past year, and 19 percent were in a group who had done so. Thirteen percent of the students said they had bullied someone at least once per month. This study was done in 2013 and it showed 20 percent were victims of bullying at least once per month. This study was not limited to sixth graders, or middle school students, which most studies focus on.

This study also found that students who receive corporal punishment at home are more likely to be depressed, and more likely to become a victim of a bully. It also found higher incidence of perpetrators of bullying among students who had received corporal punishment at home. Students of the strictest parents were also more likely to become bullies.

It also found that attitudes towards police and social institutions such as schools also influenced ones actions. Those who had little regard or respect for police or schools – or who felt the system was always against them – were more likely to become bullies.

While this is not a policy, it does make suggestions. The study is perhaps the first step toward the national department of education adopting a policy on bullying. They believe a successful policy should:

  • Focus on promoting self control
  • Problem solving skills
  • Believes about moral values
  • Promoting legitimacy of social institutions and police.


Studies have shown the bullying leads to more bullying, and if not resolved in childhood, both bullies and their victims will be the same as they were once they enter the adult world of work. In Uruguay when it comes to adults in the workplace, this is often called “mobbing,” and it usually involves a group ganging up on an individual or a small group. The basic idea is the same as one on one bullying, but there is the mob type effect that often happens in the workplace in Uruguay. At times the term mobbing is used when it involves adults in Uruguay, and the term bullying is used when it involves children or teens.

One key difference though seems to be in the motivation of the perpetrator. In childhood bullies do what they do to get approval from their peers, or to promote their social standing in their group. For adults it is more about control, and protecting their territory.

There is a common problem in Uruguay with companies harassing older workers who are near retirement, near the time when they would qualify for a pension. Some have charged companies are doing this in hopes the worker will quit and the company will not have to pay the pension. This is a form of mobbing or bullying that comes from the top. Usually it is not that well organized and is one person abusing another person.

There are currently no laws in Uruguay that specifically address mobbing or bullying in the workplace. Assault, or stealing are illegal though and could be prosecuted if that were to happen in the course of mobbing. But insulting, calling names, or otherwise belittling people is not illegal. Workplace bullying and office bullying are just as common as among children in schools.

Silvana Giachero is a psychologist we mentioned earlier, who also works with mobbing and adult situations. She decries what she calls a code of silence, where other workers do not speak of what they see when someone is abused. She did help start a group to work against adult mobbing in 2006.

Definitions are like the words to describe bullying among children. There has to be harassment that is often and over a period of time. There is the person that is abused and the person doing the abusing. Giachero’s quotes blame the companies where this happen, because they either encourage it or pretend to not notice the behavior in what she calls a “pact of silence.”

She notes that it cannot be called burnout, because in burnout the person no longer wants to work. A bullied person wants to work but cannot because they are harassed by another person or a group. She also said it is not a conflict, because the person being mobbed or bullied, is not part of the conflict, they are the abused party. She feels this needs to be punished, and that companies that let it happen should be held accountable as well.

While there is no specific law against mobbing, people may take their case to the Ministry of Labour in Uruguay, but often witnesses will not testify for fear of losing their jobs. If a person loses a case their condition is worse than it was before they made their case.

Giachero said the idea of a law to help adult victims is just now coming to Uruguay. She said a law does some good in that it can punish a perpetrator and get some relief for the victim, she realizes it dose not solve the underlying problem, which is that of bullying.

Giachero wants to see more discussion about mobbing at work, and for companies to be held accountable. The hopes there can be more positive dialog between people, which can stop bullying in the workplace by empowering victims. She sees this as a more lasting solution. The more things are talked about openly, the less power bullies will have over their victims. There is a history of political denial of the problem, and that is what she wants to change.

“That’s why I say the law does not stop this, only regulates it. What we must work on is prevention.” she said.



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