The Independent and BBC News today draw attention to the NSPCC’s ChildLine report “Can I Tell You Something?” which reviews the work of the children’s charity in regards to its counselling sessions with children and young people over the period 2012/13.
During 2012/13, ChildLine counselled 278,886 children and young people with a further 10,961 cases of children referred to the helpline by concerned others. More than 1,400 counselling sessions to children and young people was for racist bullying compared to 861 cases the previous year, according to BBC News.
The report observes that racist bullying has increased by 69% in the last 12 months. Online bullying rose by 87% on the previous year.
Nearly a quarter of those aged 11 and under contacted the helpline with concerns about bullying, accounting for the largest proportion of counselling sessions for this age group, 24%.
Bullying and online bullying was the second most common factor for children aged 12-15 to contact the helpline.
Bullying and online bullying was the least common factor for young people aged 16-18, accounting for 4% of counselling, or 2,151 sessions, with this age group.
Cases concerning bullying or online bullying account for 11% of the total, or 30,387 counselling sessions.
The most prevalent reason for contacting the helpline was depression and unhappiness and family relationships, accounting for 13% of cases respectively. Other reasons included self-harm, suicidal issues, problems with friends, physical abuse, sexual abuse and online sexual abuse, puberty and sexual health and mental health issues.
The Independent reports that “Islamophobia is a particular issue in schools”. The ChildLine report observes that most cases of bullying occur in schools with 19,795 young people reporting this to be the case in the last year.
The report notes that “a common theme was for young people to be called a “terrorist” or a “bomber”, and to “go back to where they came from”. These constant insults left many young people feeling upset, insecure and frustrated.”
A recent Freedom of Information inquiry to Bolton Council revealed that incidents of racism in Bolton schools average about one per day. Between 2007 and 2011, almost 88,000 incidents of racist bullying were recorded in British schools, the BBC Asian Network found in its report last year.
From one of ChildLine’s counselling sessions, the Independent highlights the story of a teenage girl who disclosed that “I’m being bullied at school because of my race and religion. They call me a terrorist because they know I’m Muslim. I’ve lost my temper a few times – it really frustrates me because then I end up getting in trouble. Some of my friends stick up for me, but it’s not enough, I want the teachers to do something but they always tell me they’re too busy.”
The Independent also raises concerns over how “children who have poor English or a strong accent are often called “freshies” – an abusive term that highlights their struggle to fit in.”
The problems surrounding racist bullying in school seems to be exacerbated by the current debate about immigration and a rise in ‘political hostility’ to migrant communities.
The British Social Attitudes Survey yesterday published findings that show 77 per cent of respondents want a reduction in immigration. 54% and 55% of respondents viewed the economic and cultural impact of immigration positively (respectively) but also were concerned about the current immigration level.
The head of ChildLine, Sue Minto, said “There’s so much more of a focus in the news at the moment about immigrants... it’s a real discussion topic and children aren’t immune to the conversations that happen around them. Some children are being told, even if they’re UK born, to pack your bags and go back where you belong. It is very worrying, it’s a big increase.”
James Kingett, of the charity Show Racism The Red Card (SRTRC) which does tremendous work in the education sector on racism and Islamophobia, said: “We work with around 50,000 young people every year and issues around Islamophobia have been very prevalent over the past 12 to 18 months. That idea that all Muslims are terrorists or bombers is a particular problem. We’re getting that from kids with no Muslim classmates through to those in diverse schools with many Muslims.
“We are doing work on the impact of far-right groups such as the English Defence League on children’s attitudes. Often children are picking up language at home and from parents and taking that to be fact. The rhetoric at the moment around immigration is incredibly pervasive. The prominence of the immigration debate may have had a knock-on effect, filtering down in classrooms.”
The ChildLine report demonstrates the importance of developing teaching materials and training sessions on anti-racism and Islamophobia awareness in our schools. According to the 2011 Census results, British Muslims have the youngest demographic profile of faith groups with 48% aged 24 and under.