More effective law needed to curb rampant school bullying
The video of a teenage girl getting beaten up by a group of juveniles in South China’s Hainan province went viral during China’s National Day holiday, once again drawing public attention to the country’s school bullying ‘epidemic’. Later, local authorities’ decision to pardon all the eight batterers provoked even more heated debate, shedding light on an alleged loophole in existing laws which allows minors to walk free from even felonies.

“In many cases, certain government agencies usually focus their work on mobilizing police resources to block the spread of videos of bullying on the Internet, in a bid to quell public indignation,” the state-run cited Lu Huanxiong, an official with the Hainan provincial government, as saying, who also suggested schools should boost education in this respect. But legal experts stressed the need for more effective laws and regulations.

The three-minute video first attracted attention on WeChat’s popular Moments platform, from which people could see a teenage boy repeatedly slapping a young girl’s face before another boy stamping on her waist. After the victim was knocked down, the gang covered her head with clothes and began to punch her from all directions. Several female perpetrators even tucked up the victim's shirt to humiliate her while slapping her face.

The local government in Hainan’s Wenchang city first issued a statement claiming the case was not exactly a ‘school bullying’ case and all the eight people engaged in the mass brawl were minors. Local media said online posts about the incident were ‘fake’, with local police urging netizens to be more discerning to ensure they don’t spread rumors.

Later, the Wenchang authorities said three of the batterers who had reached 14 years of age would be detained for 15 days, based on the Security Administration Punishment Law, China’s administrative legislation. But the official statement said they would not be actually detained but fined 1,000 yuan each, citing the fact that the three offenders have not reached the age of 16. The other five offenders would not be punished considering they’re not yet 14, according to the authorities.

The decision immediately drew harsh criticism on Chinese social media, with an overwhelming number of online commenters calling on the government to roll out stricter rules to effectively put a curb on rampant school bullying.

Lu Huanxiong, the executive deputy director of the Supervision Office of the Hainan provincial government, told the Wenchang case should be identified as school bullying considering all offenses including intimidation, verbal insults, racketeering and physical attacks inflicted by school kids on their peers should fall into the category no matter if it happens on the campus or not.

Lu admitted multiple high-profile bullying cases involving younger-age kids had been put under spotlight in recent years, making the issue a common concern of the Chinese society.

Deng Hejun, the vice dean of the Law School of Hainan University, revealed that for reining in the ubiquitous school bullying, in April 2016, the State Council, China’s cabinet, issued a special “circular” and in November that year, the Ministry of Education joined hands with eight other government departments to release a “directive”, all aiming to crack down on bullying and other violent crimes in campus or involving school-age kids.

However, all the policies have proven to be ineffective in curbing incidence of school bullying, Deng said, noting that it highlights the need to make some changes in the legal framework.

The existing three laws to prevent the crime and delinquency of juveniles do not properly define school bullying, Deng said, adding that the better of the three, the Juvenile Protection Law, mainly protects minors from being harmed by parents, or people from school or society. The law has no clause for harm caused by peers.

The aforementioned ‘circular’ does have a definition for ‘school bullying’, although being an administrative document, it lacks precise legal language and a well-defined criterion for implementation. Deng pointed out that there are no applicable laws and regulations in place for bullying cases to be pinned down and investigated.

The loophole is that most school bullying cases fall under administrative rules, and those who have not turned 16 years old cannot be punished because they do not shoulder administrative liabilities in China. The result is, in most cases, young offenders are merely lectured and asked to apologize.

The Wenchang case is not an isolated one. Last June, a netizen posted a video clip recording a school bullying incident in Yanqing, a district of Beijing, in which a teenage boy handicapped by infantile paralysis was cornered in a toilet room and forced to swallow defecate.

“The dignity of those being abused was so treaded, then what would happen to those inflictors,” a netizen posted a rhetorical question. Five of them was ruled to be detained for 15 days but actually let go free because they were not yet 16, and the other two were not called to account because they were not yet 14, it’s known from a statement by the Yanqing police.  


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