The recent case of an autistic boy having to move schools due to bullying is a clear indication that more has to be done to change attitudes towards children with disabilities and address bullying in schools, says the Human Rights Commission.
The Ministry of Education is considering overriding school zoning rules to help a child into a new school because he was physically and verbally bullied on a daily basis at his previous school.
Disability Rights Commissioner Paula Tesoriero says we should all be asking ourselves why disabled children are being bullied at higher rates than others.
“In this specific case, one child suggested to another that they kill themselves. It doesn’t get more serious than this. The fact this child will be moving schools provides an immediate response to the situation, but what is needed is a change in attitudes towards disabled kids in our schools.
“The fact that the bullying was even taking place is a reminder that we have a long way to go to ensure children with disabilities feel they are valued members of their classrooms, schools, and wider communities.
“We need to be raising our children to celebrate their differences – not use them as a tool to bully and abuse others,” Ms Tesoriero says.
Chief Commissioner David Rutherford says the statistics around bullying have to change and has been advocating for a proven bullying prevention programme to be introduced in more New Zealand schools.
“The ongoing failure to address a problem that New Zealand children have identified as one of their greatest concerns is a national disgrace. If it is not addressed, we will continue to have one of the worst rates of school bullying in the developed world with all the personal and social costs that follow.
“Programs that are proven to work raise awareness of the need to respect and protect each other and provide specific interventions for students when bullying occurs.
Such programs are particularly important for students known to be subject to greater likelihood of bullying such as disabled and SOGISC (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, Sexual Characteristics) students.
“If we create an expectation when our children are young that bullying is not OK, they will grow into adults that share that same message in their workplaces, in their homes and in their communities,” Mr Rutherford says.