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China needs to better protect victims of school bullying

In 2019, a 14-year-old boy was attacked by 15 students in a school washroom. He struck back with a knife and injured three. He had already been harassed earlier the same day.

The same month, reports surfaced of a video showing three boys bullying another boy in Linyi, Shandong province. During the seven-minute video, the boys stuffed rubbish into the victim’s mouth before repeatedly beating and kicking him as he cried out in pain. And, in April, a 14-year-old girl was attacked by a classmate in Changsha, Hunan province. In desperation, the victim self-harmed.

These incidents have shocked people in China. Yet, they are just the tip of the iceberg. Research indicates that bullying is a widespread problem in Chinese schools. Huazhong Normal University conducted a survey of six provinces and found that, between 2019 and 2020, 32.4 per cent of primary and middle school students experienced verbal, physical or online bullying. Of course, bullying is a universal problem but, in China, it seems it has not been taken seriously enough.

One thing many people agree on is that schools have not paid enough attention to the issue. According to a recent study of school bullying in Shanghai, just over 51 per cent of parents feel that schools “pay some attention, but there is room for improvement”, and nearly 15 per cent believe schools “do not pay enough attention”.

The current laws are inadequate. In 2021, school bullying was incorporated into the Law on Protection of Minors. However, in China’s criminal system, school bullying is not listed as a crime so there is a lack of applicable offences.

Juvenile offenders have been usually treated with leniency. Li Wannan, an academic who looked into the issue in terms of criminology, argued that