Samoan Teenagers Most Bullied, Violent In Asia Pacific: UNICEF

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More report being bullies, getting into fights than elsewhere

By Sophie Budvietas

APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, Sept. 24, 2014) – Samoan teenagers aged 13-15 are among the most bullied and most violent youth in East Asia and the Pacific, says the United Nations Children’s Fund (U.N.I.C.E.F.).

A report released this month by the Agency, titled "Hidden In Plain Sight: A statistical analysis of violence against children," reveals that almost three quarters of Samoan youth have experienced bullying, while more than two thirds have reported being in a physical fight.

The report, written by the Agency’s Division of Data, Research and Policy, is based on data collected through the Global School-based Student Health Surveys (G.S.H.S.) and the Health Behaviour in School-aged Children Study (H.B.S.C.).

In regards to bullying, while Samoan youth may suffer the most at the hands of bullies, U.N.I.C.E.F. acknowledges this form of violence is a global problem.

"It exists at some level and in some form in every country," the report reads.

Available data from 106 countries collected through the H.B.S.C. and G.S.H.S. show that the proportions of adolescents aged 13 to 15 who say they have recently experienced bullying ranges from 7 per cent in Tajikistan to 74 per cent in Samoa.

In 14 of the 67 low and middle income countries with available data, more than half of the student population said they recently experienced bullying.

These adolescents come from diverse parts of the world, from small Pacific Islands such as Vanuatu to large African nations including Kenya.

Not only are Samoan youth the most bullied, they are also the most group in the survey to get into fights – with almost 70 per cent of adolescents reporting being in a recent physical fight.

"Available data from a large cross-section of countries reveals that fighting among adolescents is a common occurrence," the report reads.

More than half of adolescents reported involvement in a physical fight in countries as diverse as Djibouti, Mauritania, Samoa and Yemen.

Anywhere from 14 per cent of adolescents aged 13 to 15 in Cambodia to 68 per cent in Samoa reported engaging in a physical fight in the past 12 months.

It should be noted that U.N.I.C.E.F acknowledged that data needs for the report were often not met, with the quality and scope of research often limited and varying from country to country.

"While acknowledging these limitations, this report makes use of available evidence to describe what is currently known about global patterns of violence against children, using data compiled from a selection of sources," U.N.I.C.E.F. reports.

"The analyses focus primarily on forms of interpersonal violence, defined as violent acts inflicted on children by another individual or a small group.

The types of interpersonal violence covered include those mainly committed by caregivers and other family members, authority figures, peers and strangers, both within and outside the home.

In its assessment of the available data, the Agency defines physical violence against children all corporal punishment.

"And all other forms of torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment as well as physical bullying and hazing by adults or by other children," it reads.

‘Corporal’ (or ‘physical’) punishment is defined as any punishment in which physical force is used and intended to cause some degree of pain or discomfort, however light.

"Most involves hitting - smacking, slapping, spanking - children with the hand or with an implement (such as) a whip, stick, belt, shoe (or) wooden spoon."

"But it can also involve, for example, kicking, shaking or throwing children, scratching, pinching, biting, pulling hair or boxing ears, caning, forcing children to stay in uncomfortable positions, burning, scalding or forced ingestion."

U.N.I.C.E.F. did issue a word of caution in defining such violence saying while specific forms of violence have a distinctive nature and can occur in isolation, any attempt to ‘categorise’ violence is a somewhat artificial undertaking.

"For one thing, the boundaries between acts of violence tend to become blurred," the report reads.

"Sexual violence is often inflicted through the use of physical force and/or psychological intimidation. Moreover, experiences of violence often overlap."

"While some children may experience rare and isolated incidents of aggression, others may find themselves repeatedly exposed to multiple forms of abuse."

"In addition to the possible overlap of various types of violence, children can be victims, perpetrators and witnesses to violence – all at the same time."

The Agency also states the protection of children from all forms of violence is a fundamental right guaranteed by the Convention on the rights of the Child and other international human rights treaties and standards.

"Yet violence remains an all-too-real part of life for children around the globe – regardless of their economic and social circumstances, culture, religion or ethnicity – with both immediate and long-term consequences," it says.

"Children who have been severely abused or neglected are often hampered in their development, experience learning difficulties and perform poorly at school."

"They may have low self-esteem and suffer from depression, which can lead, at worst, to risky behaviours and self-harm."

U.N.I.C.E.F. says witnessing violence can cause similar distress.

"Children who grow up in a violent household or community tend to internalise that behaviour as a way of resolving disputes, repeating the pattern of violence and abuse against their own spouses and children," the report reads.

Beyond the tragic effects on individuals and families, violence against children carries serious economic and social costs in both lost potential and reduced productivity.

Over the last decade, recognition of the pervasive nature and impact of violence against children has grown.

Still, the Agency reports, the phenomenon remains largely undocumented and underreported.

"This can be attributed to a variety of reasons, including the fact that some forms of violence against children are socially accepted, tacitly condoned or not perceived as being abusive," it says.

"Many victims are too young or too vulnerable to disclose their experience or to protect themselves."

"And all too often when victims do denounce an abuse, the legal system fails to respond and child protection services are unavailable."

"The lack of adequate data on the issue is likely compounding the problem by fuelling the misconception that violence remains a marginal phenomenon, affecting only certain categories of children and perpetrated solely by offenders with biological predispositions to violent behaviour."

Looking now to the violence that most afflicts Samoa’s youth – bullying - U.N.I.C.E.F. says this type of violence refers to the use of aggression to assert power over another person.

"More specifically, it has been defined by researchers as actions, either physical or verbal, that have a hostile intent, are repeated over time, cause distress for the victim and involve a power imbalance between the perpetrator and victim," the report reads.

As social dynamics have shifted over time, and with the growing use of information and communication technologies such as the Internet and cell phones, children are increasingly exposed to new forms of bullying.

A growing body of literature examines the prevalence, risk factors and impact of bullying on both victims and perpetrators.

However, much of the available evidence is derived from research conducted in the Western world.

The Agency says while research into the individual risk factors that lead to bullying has highlighted a variety of possible causes, a few factors have consistently been found to predict the likelihood that an adolescent or younger child will bully others.

"Those who have been maltreated by caregivers are significantly more likely to bully others, particularly those who have experienced physical or sexual abuse," the report reads.

Witnessing parental physical abuse or domestic violence has also been documented as a strong risk factor for bullying.

In addition, research has identified hyperactivity-impulsiveness, low self-control and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder as strong predictors of bullying.

"Children who bully tend to have weak inhibitions against aggression and are significantly more likely than victims of bullying to exhibit anger."

U.N.I.C.E.F. says some research suggests that boys are more likely to bully others than girls and are more likely to use physical violence and threats.

"Girls, on the other hand, seem more prone to psychological/relational forms of bullying, which involve actions such as excluding others or spreading rumours," it says.

For instance, in a national survey in Malta, researchers found that 61 per cent of boy bullies reported bullying others with physical violence, compared to 30 per cent of girl bullies.

In contrast, 43 per cent of girl bullies reported isolating others (not talking to them), compared to 26 per cent of boy bullies.

The Agency says many individual risk factors for being bullied have also been identified.

"Children who are bullied are often marginalized by their peers for a wide variety of reasons," it says.

"Risk factors include not having many friends, particularly those who can be trusted, and loneliness."

"Particular groups of children, such as ethnic minorities and those with disabilities, can be especially vulnerable to bullying."

"Teenagers may also be targeted because of their sexual orientation."

"For example, one study in the United Kingdom found that between 30 and 50 per cent of adolescents in secondary schools who were attracted to the same sex experienced homophobic bullying."

The report says research highlights a wide range of negative long-term outcomes of bullying on both victims and perpetrators.

"Children who are bullied are likely to experience a range of negative psychological outcomes, including depression, anxiety, thoughts of suicide and low life satisfaction," the report reads.

"Across multiple ethnic groups, being bullied by peers has also been connected to a heightened risk of eating disorders and to social and relationship difficulties, such as loneliness and being socially withdrawn."

Furthermore, students who are bullied are more likely to experience academic difficulties, including underachievement, lower attendance and dropping out, among others.

"The social, emotional and psychological effects of bullying can be severe and can persist throughout childhood into adulthood."

On the other hand, U.N.I.C.E.F. says numerous studies have also found a strong relationship between bullying others, increased depressive symptoms and thoughts of suicide.

"Bullying has been linked to future engagement in juvenile delinquency, including theft and robberies, vandalism, arson, physical attacks, gang involvement and the selling of drugs," the report reads.

"Children who bully others also report increased rates of risky behaviours, including smoking and drinking, fighting, being injured in physical fights and carrying weapons."

Looking now to another problem area for Samoa, fighting.

"Fighting generally involves conflict between two or more persons in which the distinction between perpetrators and victims is not always clear-cut," U.N.I.C.E.F. reports.

"In some instances, both parties may have instigated or chosen to participate in the fight, while in others, one person may be fighting back in self-defence.

The literature on the subject suggests that children who are involved in fighting are more likely than those who are not to report a lack of perceived parental support in relation to school.

"They also report greater difficulties establishing close peer relationships, poor emotional health, less parental supervision, feelings of alienation from school and low academic success."

If you would like to read the report in full please visit http://www.unicef.org/publications/index_74865.html.

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