Racist bullying made worse by immigration debate


The number of children seeking help for racist bullying increased sharply last year, amid warnings that the heated public debate about immigration is souring race relations in the classroom.

More than 1,400 children and young people contacted ChildLine for counselling about racist bullying in 2013, up 69 per cent on the previous 12 months, according to The Independent. Islamophobia is a particular issue in schools, according to the charity, with young Muslims reporting that they are being called “terrorists” and “bombers” by classmates.

Children who have poor English or a strong accent are often called “freshies” – an abusive term that highlights their struggle to fit in.

The rise in children needing help for xenophobic bullying coincides with rising political hostility to immigration – especially in the lead-up to the lifting of restrictions on Romanians and Bulgarians entering the UK.

In 2011, just 802 children approached the charity seeking help for racist bullying.

Sue Minto, head of ChildLine, 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. This past year, it really seems to be something children and young people are suffering with.”

Overall, the number of children needing support for bullying of any kind was up 8 per cent between 2012 and 2013, according to ChildLine.

The charity’s report found that the majority of the racist bullying affecting children was happening at school and many of those calling ChildLine for counselling say teachers ignore the situation or make it worse with clumsy interventions.

According to ChildLine, several young people who had the courage to tell a teacher then found that nothing happened or that they were given advice to simply ignore the bullies, which they found unhelpful and ineffective. Others were reluctant to speak out, fearing that the situation would become worse.

Some actions taken by the school made things worse, some children said. For example, racist bullying being discussed in assembly simply advertised it and led to increased abusive behaviour.

While girls are ordinarily more likely to approach ChildLine about bullying, more boys get in touch about racist abuse. Of the calls and online counselling sessions, 52 per cent involved boys, 32 per cent girls and 16 per cent were gender unknown.

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “No child should have to suffer the fear and victimisation of bullying. Every school must have measures in place by law to prevent it and, thanks to our new curriculum, children will soon be taught how to stay safe online, including cyber-bullying, from the age of five.

“We have strengthened the powers that teachers have to tackle bullying. They can search pupils for banned items, delete inappropriate images from phones, and give out same-day detentions. We are also providing more than £4m to a range of anti-bullying organisations to help schools develop strategies to tackle the problem and deal with the impact when it occurs.”

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