Award-winning journalist reflects on bullying in schools

We sat down with Giovanni Dennis, the newest winner of UNICEF’s annual Award for Reporting on Children’s Rights, presented at the Press Association of Jamaica’s awards show, to get his thoughts on the alarming prevalence of bullying. Giovanni’s winning entry about this issue was inspired by the first report of its kind on bullying on schools, which was conducted in 2015 by the then Child Development Agency (CDA), with support from UNICEF. Giovanni’s report aired on Beyond the Headlines on RJR.

There are a lot of children in Jamaica hurting, and for some of them bullying is how they express that hurt.

I think at the core, these children are not inherently bad persons, but a lot of them are hurting so they have to put on this face to deal with whatever they are going through. One 13-year-old boy I spoke to, his mom had died. So he’s staying with a friend of his mother’s; and for him once he gets to school, bullying is his way of coping.

But when I talked to him, he misses his mom, after all he’s just 13, and he breaks down and cries.

bullying in jamaican schools

6/10 children bullied

I got interested in reporting about bullying after I heard about the CDA/UNICEF report that showed 6/10 children have been bullied. I was like, wow, because growing up I had experienced this – being pushed around or being forced to conform; and then children being beaten up – whether inflicted by peers or adults.

One adult I spoke to had been a bully throughout school, and was a gang leader. When I asked about her background she said that she wasn’t always like that, but that she had to be strong for her younger brother after their father died. She was from an inner-city community and people dying was normal; and so that aggression was what she took from home to school.

Another female I spoke with, it started when she herself was retaliating to bullying, when she couldn’t take it anymore and so she hit the other girl. From there she felt the power; and that’s the cycle of violence perpetuating itself.

More help needed

I think these children need more help. Where you have more than 1,000 students in one high school, one guidance counsellor is not enough. You need to have at least three, and feel comfortable enough to express themselves. They should be shown positive behaviour rather than just be punished for negative behavior and told what not to do.

Draconian rules where these children need counseling but are instead expelled or suspended won’t work. Because suspension won’t fix what these children are dealing with at home; or in the community; or being involved in crime. Expelling a 16-year-old, he could join a gang because he is unattached. And we know what can happen from there.

The idea that children should be seen and not heard, I don’t subscribe to that. Honestly I put a lot of work into this to tell their story as true as possible, to let the country know what is going on, and I’m glad that it generated discussion.

While I’m glad to have won this award, as a journalist this is not about me. For me it is encouragement to report more on issues that will be beneficial for children – to bring about positive change for them.

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    1. Thanks for your comment Marlyn. Please clarify what you mean?