Child law experts call for update to policies on cyberbullying

As part of obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), the Education Department needs to urgently update its 20-year-old anti-bullying policy to include cyberbullying and teach children about their rights online, according to a child law expert.

The Department of Education’s anti-bullying policy, which governs bullying policies in the country’s schools, has not been updated since 1993 and doesn’t mention cyberbullying.

Yet, according to a UCC law lecturer cyberbullying is a “form of violence” against children and the Government needs to put more protections in place.

In the past six months, two Irish teenagers, Ciara Pugsley from Leitrim and Erin Gallagher from Co Donegal died by suicide following cyberbullying. In Canada, a third teenager, Amanda Todd, from Vancouver in Canada, also killed herself following sustained torment online.

Aisling Parkes, who is due to speak at a cyberbullying conference in Cork today, is not advocating legislation as she believes children have sufficient rights already due to international commitments such as the UNCRC.

“I think this issue needs to be tackled from a child’s rights perspective. Children have a right to be protected from physical and mental violence under the UNCRC, they have a right to health; to education; all of which can be affected by cyberbullying. The National Educational Welfare’s code of behaviour is totally out of date and makes no mention of cyberbullying,” she said.

Article 12 of the UNCRC also stipulates that the voice of the child must be heard when drafting policy or legislation around children. Research needs to be completed on cyberbullying in Ireland and children, parents and teachers must be involved in this, according to Ms Parkes.

She also believes children need to be educated more in classrooms about diversity and about human rights and behaviour online as this will lead to a greater understanding of what is acceptable and unacceptable.

Aisling Parkes will participate in a cyberbullying seminar being hosted by Ireland South MEP, Sean Kelly in Cork City today. Representatives from Facebook, EU data protection experts and psychologists will be speaking at the event at Nemo Rangers club.

Earlier this week, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced a number of comprehensive measures to tackle the problem of bullying in schools and online.

As part of Ms Gillard’s initiative, an education programme is to be rolled out in more than 3,200 schools Australian schools which she said would teach students to be “safe and respectful digital citizens”.

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