Country under fire for leaving victims to struggle alone

17th September 2004 at 01:00

New Zealand has the highest suicide rate linked to bullying among OECD countries.

Yet it is also one of the few countries never to have implemented a national anti-bullying strategy, Keith Sullivan, professor of education at the National University of Ireland, Galway, told the conference.

A comprehensive report by the Human Rights Commission on New Zealand has found the country is failing to protect and uphold the rights of children.

Professor Sullivan, author of The anti-bullying handbook, criticised the New Zealand government for leaving anti-bullying programmes to the discretion of individual schools or charities.

"The work that's being done is all very hit and miss," he said. "Some anti-bullying schemes mean well, but do more harm than good."

He cited the Kia Kaha project, developed by the youth education service of the New Zealand police, which he said put "too much emphasis on the victims finding their own solutions".

Mark Cleary, principal at William Colenso college, said New Zealand's administrative guidelines require schools to provide "a safe physical and emotional environment to learn in".

Professor Sullivan said that New Zealand's commissioner for children recently revealed that youngsters think being bullied is second only to the death of a parent, when it comes to worst experiences. "Clearly the government needs to address the legal obligations of schools as they have done in Norway," he said.

New Zealand is not the only OECD country without a clear national strategy.

Dagmar Strohmeier, of the University of Vienna, said Austria was way behind countries like Norway. Research is funded but not its implementation.

"We need the government's support to set up a national policy and develop informed and cogent preventative programmes to protect children," she said.

10-part series on behaviour starts in Friday magazine next week

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