Bullying has recently proliferated in our society, prompting official and unofficial responses ranging from awareness campaigns to legislation.
Bullying, by definition, is a type of aggression of varying degrees of intensity and forms. The UNICEF has developed three characteristics that distinguish bullying from other negative behaviors and practices, namely imbalance of power, repetition, and intentionality. Authors of the book “Bullies and Victims” added other characteristics to the list, including intention to harm and taking pleasure in bullying. Furthermore, they set criteria for studying and interpreting bullying, including degrees of severity, duration, impact on the victim’s self-esteem, the bully’s authority (age, power, size, and gender), degree of support provided to the victim, and consequences of bullying, i.e. withdrawal, aggression, and revenge.
Bullying comes in different forms: physical bullying which includes all varying degrees and forms of hitting; material (tangible) bullying including theft and property damage; verbal and psychological bullying including insults, ridicule, threats, gestures (threatening signs), contempt, among others; cyberbullying performed through social platforms, emails, or chat; and racial bullying because of color, gender, race, or religion. Below, we detail ways to reduce bullying through education and legislation.
Figure 1: Types of Bullying
Bullying and educational responsibility
Several factors contribute to the exacerbation of bullying behaviors. First, there is parental neglect. A neglected child finds bullying as a means to find empowerment and source of getting attention. Bullying is intimately related to a child’s self-esteem; there is an inverse relationship between the two where bad parenting, whether resulting from negligence or excessive pampering, contribute to increasing bullying. Sometimes parents inadvertently instill the bullying behavior in their children by barging about the aggressive behavior of their children touting it as a kind of courage and boldness. Second, family violence and violent electronic games contribute to consolidating bullying behaviors in children. Constant exposure to (familiarity with/ witnessing) physical and verbal violence at home encourages children to practice bullying outside. Bullying gives rise to several psychological problems for children, which brings bullying into the scope of educational work and educational responsibilities. Victims of bullying experience negative impacts including introversion, isolation, and speech disorders such as stammering or stuttering. Additionally, bullying causes various educational problems, including forgetfulness and lack of concentration, both affect children’s academic performance. Overall, bullying threatens the psychological, social, and school environment security.
Figure 2: Types of psychological violence against children in selected governorates
Source: UNICEF, October 2018
The characteristics of bullying and its psychological and social consequences are the same throughout the world. However, its causes differ from one country to another and from one city to another within the same state.
Theories and strategies addressing fighting bullying are abound. Psychological studies identified different theories to control bullying including Albert Ellis’s Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REPT) theory aimed at reinforcing rational thinking and behavioral analysis to distinguish between what is rational and irrational. Donald Herbert developed the REPT theory by analyzing the child’s way of thinking and its impact on the formation of concepts. A child’s way of thinking determines the accumulation of the events they experienced. These theories and their implementation strategies serve as a direct and guiding treatment for children who engage in bullying. Implementation of this therapy is usually done with the help of specialists such as social workers or psychologists in schools; so, this type of therapeutic intervention does not contribute to comprehensively reducing bullying, although it benefits individual cases.
Conversely, positive awareness programs and values development based on school curricula serve as a sustainable and effective approach to deter the growing bullying behaviors. Examples of these programs include the “I am against bullying” campaign launched by UNICEF in 2018 in collaboration with Egypt’s National Council for Childhood and Motherhood and the Ministry of Education (MoE) and funded by the European Union. Moreover, the MoE introduced the “Values and Respecting Others” curriculum which will be gradually implemented across school grades starting with the third grade during the current school year (2020-2021), moving to higher levels over the coming years, one grade after another. The new values curriculum marks a qualitative shift in the Egyptian education, as it promotes the development of six different positive values. The curriculum features five characters, including two with special needs, and a third with dark skin, sending an implicit message of accepting others. The curriculum is narrative-based where the key characters are brought together in different life and educational situations that urges reason and use of critical thinking skills to solve a problem or make a decision based on events of the story.
The “values” curriculum is more of an indirect approach to reducing bullying by maximizing positive behavior; however, its impact remains confined to a limited number of students. In addition, it overlooks older students from Grade 5 to Grade 12, a group that is more vulnerable to have high prevalence rate of bullying. According to the UNICEF 2019 data, the rate of bullying among children aged 15 to 17 amounted to about 70 percent, which necessitates implementing awareness programs through schools, the media, and cultural centers, particularly given the spread of footage of bullying on social media, which indicates that bullying has become a regular and frequent behavior among teenagers and young adults.
Legislation to curb bullying
In parallel with social upbringing, anti-bullying legislation and laws come as a deterrent tool to curb bullying. In July 2020, the Egyptian government approved a draft amendment to the Penal Code, introducing a new article stating that: “Any show of force, control by the offender, abuse of a vulnerable victim, or any behavior that insults a victim’s gender, race, religion, physical appearance, health or mental state, or social level, with the intent of intimidating, ridiculing, degrading, or social exclusion shall be considered bullying.”
The new article fixed a penalty of a prison term of no less than six months and/or a fine of EGP 10,000 to EGP 30,000. However, the penalty shall be increased up to a one-year prison term and/or a fine of EGP 20,000 to EGP 100,000 if the number of perpetrators is more than two or if the offender has authority over the victim.
Additionally, a member of the Parliament submitted a bill suggesting increasing the bullying penalty in Law No. 10 of 2018 on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The amendment included the addition of a new article as follows: “A bully of a person with disability shall be liable to imprisonment for a term of no less than one year and/or a fine of EGP 50,000 to EGP 100,000.” The penalty shall be increased to imprisonment for a period of no less than two years and/or a fine of EGP 100,000 to EGP 200,000 if conditions enshrined in the Penal Law for bullying penalty are met. Last April, the Senate approved the bill to help preserve rights of people with special needs so that punishment commensurate with the crime.
At the sports level, bullying has become rampant, particularly in football. This could be attributed to a number of psychological characteristics known as the “mass behavior”. Pack mentality induces collective bullying, and reduces individuals’ sense of responsibility or accountability as everyone shows the same behavior to prove belonging to the crowd. Rallying around a leader and a goal is one of main motivators of collective bullying.
Technological progress has contributed to the transfer of football intolerance from stadiums to social media platforms. As such, the Sports Law 71/2017 included articles criminalizing bullying, including Article 85, which stipulates that: “Any person who slurs, slanders, insults a natural or a legal person through words, chanting, or reference, incites hatred or racial discrimination by any means of publicity during or on the occasion of a sports activity shall be liable to imprisonment for a term of no less than one year and/or a fine of EGP 1,000 and not more than to EGP 3,000. The penalty shall be doubled if any of such acts are committed against of one the bodies involved in securing the sports event or any of its employees. The penalty shall be increased to imprisonment for a term of not less than one year and/ or a fine of EGP 50,000 to EGP 100,000, in case of use of force, violence, threat, or intimidation against a player, referee, a member of the technical or administrative bodies of sports teams, or a member of the boards of directors of sports bodies.
As for cyber bullying, the Anti-cyber and Information Technology Crimes Law of 2018 includes no explicit provisions that criminalize cyberbullying practices. Articles of the third chapter of the law provides for preserving privacy, protecting individuals against blackmail by imposing penalties for crimes related to illegal content, infringement of family principles and societal values, violating the sanctity of the private life of persons by publishing information, news, or their photos without their consent, whether the information published is true or false, or intentionally using a computer program or information technology to process personal data of others and linking it to content incompatible with public morality, or displaying it in a manner that offences against honor. Therefore, in the field of information technology, more legislation are needed to criminalize cyberbullying of all kinds.
Accordingly, it is evident that the legislative tools become more prominent than educational methods to address bullying in Egypt. More studies to extrapolate the causes of the widespread of bullying from an educational perspective need to be carried out and awareness programs need to be implemented by various educational platforms, including the media, schools, mosques, churches, and civil society organizations, among others.