When I came to Dubai, there was a little uncertainty behind all the excitement. I was afraid whether I would fit into Dubai, with its glamour and diversity. But more important than that was the thought of my son. While I could express my reservations to my family and friends, I doubted if Azlan could. Most toddlers and children do not have the vocabulary to express discomfort with the surroundings.
For a child, relocating to a new country is like changing the world they have grown to depend on. For one, their grandparents and friends are no longer in it. Then, there is the change of language, familiar faces, favorite places and the culture, of course.
For a school going child, the situation is almost grave. Suddenly, he has no friends. And he is an outcast. He does not know who to talk to, where to sit in the school cafeteria, etc. The situation can even worsen. He could become the victim of bully. Without a friend group to protect him, he could become vulnerable to bullying. He may be seen as different or even weak, which may prompt other students to pick on him. This is not an uncommon story in Dubai. Bullying is quite common in Dubai, even in preschool years.
Bullying in UAE
In 2012, Microsoft conducted a study on bullying, specifically cyber bullying, in 25 countries. The UAE participated in the study and the findings revealed that UAE ‘has the lowest rate of online bullying’. However, offline bullying is quite common in UAE. 81% of the children reported to have experienced bullying offline (world average: 72%). 61% of the students admitted to have bullying someone offline. This is quite high as compared to the world average of 42%.
According to Dr Haneen Jarrar, a psychologist at Camali Clinic in Dubai, bullying in UAE is a big issue, probably higher than in another country. Some children are even bullied at preschool levels. According to a private study conducted in UAE, 40% students experience bullying and 70% of these go unreported.
The main reason for this could be the transient nature of Dubai’s culture. People from nearly all parts of the world are working here, creating wide language, culture and religious differences. This creates a volatile situation for bullying; especially when parents unconsciously or even consciously promote such practices.
Some Cases of Bullying in UAE
I first heard of bullying in UAE when I started looking for nurseries for my son. Many mothers recommended a well-known nursery in the area, but when I searched online, I was horrified. There was an article about a case of bullying in the nursery where the victim, a three year old boy, was found beaten and severely bruised while playing in the outdoor play area. The parents were rightly agitated and I learnt that bullying is not a new concept in UAE. It could happen even in the best schools.
Perhaps the most horrifying incident of bullying in UAE was the one on Loujain Hussain. Loujain Hussain, an 11 year old was physically attacked by a group of boys on April, 2012. The attack was so severe that Loujain went into comatose for weeks. Even though, Hussain came out of her coma, the attack left scars on her life. She lost vision in the right eye and developed a strong fear of socializing.
Some Reasons for Bullying in UAE
When most children arrive in UAE from their home countries, they have difficulty adapting to English. They may not speak fluently and this can become a cause of ridicule for them.
UAE is a hub of different cultures and religions. The practices and beliefs of these cultures are often widely disparate from each other. People who bully often aim their taunts at children who are strongly aligned with their own cultural values. For instance, wearing a hijab could make a child a victim of taunts and bullying.
Having come from a third world country, I have seen a few cases of racial discrimination in UAE. While I do not blame the entire race for the acts of few, I still cannot ignore the fact that some races consider themselves superior to others. This is a pressing cause of bullying in UAE.
We humans have a strong tendency to stick to our own kind. Someone different from ourselves does not garner the same warmth and when in a group, we may consciously or unconsciously, cast them as outcasts. Since we are the primary role models for our children, they mimic our actions. Some parents want their children to stick to their cultural background, especially when they are outside their home base. They want their children to make friends with the same culture as theirs. This creates racial alienation among students, which prompts bullying.
What Should be Done
Every school will disown any rumors about bullying in their premises, unless presented with a valid proof. But it is often at school playgrounds, where there are minimal chances of adult intervention, that children will become victims to bullying. Before taking any formal steps, schools need to admit and acknowledge that bullying could be happening in their premises.
Understand the concept of Bullying
Most people tend to confuse bullying with teasing. But it is not. When fellow students ease each other, both sides stand on equal ground and participate equally. However, in the case of bullying, the bully is perceived to have a higher authority which allows him more leverage over the victim.
Parents, teachers and even school authorities sometimes do not understand the difference. When a student complains of being bullied, he is often told to toughen up. Schools need to work with students to observe and tackle bullying from their perspective.
We need more education regarding bullying. All parties affected by bullying should be taken into consideration. These include students, parents, teachers and even the school authorities. Teachers and parents should be trained on how to spot the signs of bullying and how to deal with them. Parents should also know how they could be encouraging their child to become a bully. This training should start at the early years to prevent bullying from the onset.
Discourage Passive Bullying
In more than 54% of bullying incidents reported in US, on-lookers say the bullying but did nothing about it. Schools need to discourage students from being just bystanders. Students should be encouraged to step in and call off the bully.
Most parents when looking for schools for their children look for schools that offer good education, extra-curricular activities, certified teachers etc. But they never ask about the school’s stance on bullying. We believe that our child cannot be bullied. But even if he is not bullied, he could still become involved in bullying. And this should be a cause of concern for us. We need to ask and even press schools to adopt a no-tolerance stance towards bullying.
In 2012, only one percent of the schools had formal policies against bullying while 15 % provided education regarding bullying. Schools in UAE have become more aware over the years and there is a lot of hope for a country with a very young education system.
Bullying in UAE: What Needs To Be Done