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Bullying And Suicide: it's legal and psychological aspects

From the vantage point of adulthood, bullying is mean-spirited and pointless, but it is unfortunately a regular part of childhood. (Indeed, even some adults haven't grown out of the habit of belittling others and pushing them around.) Luckily, bullying has finally entered the media spotlight, and the public outcry is forcing parents, teachers, administrators and policy-makers to step up to the plate and do something. We've all been there.

The playground, where one girl grabs another's hair and yanks her backwards off the swing. The lunchroom, where �the mean kid� smacks down a smaller boy's tray, spilling his food. The classroom, where a group of kids repeatedly taunt the youngest child in the class for being stupid. As with any public discourse, this inevitably means confusion, misunderstanding and misconception on the part of listeners. Oftentimes, when the topic of bullying crops up, people have more questions than answers. This paper will seek to clear up the confusion and correct the misunderstandings and misconceptions that have arisen about bullying, both recently and in the past.

Bullying is a very common, complex and potentially damaging form of violence among children and adolescents. Bullying is defined as unwanted, aggressive behavior, which involves a real or perceived social power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time (therefore, the definition excludes occasional or minor incidents). These actions are purposeful and intended to hurt or make the victim uncomfortable. Bullying may manifest itself in many forms.

It can be physical, verbal, relational, or cyber; it can be subtle and elusive. The most common form of bullying both for boys and girls is verbal bullying such as name-calling. Although bullying is more common in schools, it can occur anywhere. It often occurs in unstructured areas such as playgrounds, cafeterias, hallways, and buses. In recent years, cyber-bullying has received increased attention, as electronic devices have become more common.

Bullying through electronic means, although prevalent, ranks third after verbal bullying and physical bullying. In general, bullying is a common type of social experience that children refer to as �getting picked on.�

It Is Necessary To Understand The Term Bullying. The Bar Association Of India Of India Gave Its Definition As:

�Bullying means systematically and chronically inflicting physical hurt or psychological distress on one or more students or employees. It is further defined as unwanted and repeated written, verbal, or physical behaviour, including any threatening, insulting, or dehumanizing gesture, by a student or adult, that is severe or pervasive enough to create an intimidating, hostile, or offensive educational environment; cause discomfort or humiliation; or unreasonably interfere with the individual's school performance or participation; and may involve but is not limited to: teasing, social exclusion, threat, intimidation, stalking, physical violence, theft, sexual, religious, or racial harassment, public humiliation, or destruction of property.�

In India in the case of Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan[1], the Supreme first time dealt with issue of bullying and it laid down certain guidelines for the protection of woman employees from sexual harassment. But it only dealt with bullying against men at workplaces. Further, there is a need to consider different types of bullying at workplaces.

In the west bullying at workplace is recognized as violence in workplaces. Bullying can be in different subtle forms like invalid criticism, exclusion, false allegations, constant bantering, humiliation or unnecessary written warnings. The most vulnerable to this plight are the subordinates in offices. This is a scenario in private as well as public sector. Most of the bullying is done by seniors, hierarchy plays a key role.

To achieve targets supervisors have to force the employees to labor hard especially the young workers have to face most of the harassment due to higher expectations. Bullying and harassment at workplace lead to terrible effect on the health and well being and performance of the employees. In India, there is no special legislation against bullying at workplace. Still, in India a worker can seek redressal under different provisions provided under the constitution of India, IPC, and C.P.C.

The Indian Constitution under various articles provides labor rights. Though not in evident form but indirectly various articles protect the labour rights. For instance, Article 14 of the Indian Constitution lays down the concept of Equality before law. In the case of Mewa Ram v. A.I.I. Medical Science[2] , the Supreme Court, held that �the doctrine of �equal pay for equal work' is not an abstract doctrine. Equality must be among equals, unequal people cannot claim equality.�[3]

Indian constitution through various articles21, 23, 24, 38, 39, 39-A, 41, 42, 43, 43-A and 47 provides an idea of what conditions should be provided by the employers. However, some of these articles do not have binding effect which at instances hinders justice. Part 4 of the constitution talks about the duty of the state to promote social welfare and to make effective provisions for securing the right to work, providing education and public assistance in cases of employment, etc., which is subject to limits of its economic capacity, to make special provisions for just and humane condition of work and for maternity relief, etc.

In the case of Consumer Education and Research Centre v. Union of India[4] �Right to life includes protection of the health and strength of the worker is a minimum requirement to enable a person to live with human dignity. The right to human dignity, development of personality, social protection, right to rest and leisure are fundamental human rights to a workman assured by the Charter of Human Rights, in the Preamble and Arts.38 and 39 of the Constitution.�

Honorable Supreme Court laid emphasis on the Human Dignity of employees and it should be respected. However, after such precedents, we have cases like Pradhan v. State of Uttaranchal and others[5] and then Madan Mohan Singh v. State of Gujarat and another[6] and a close reading of these cases bring forth that the courts would be slow in holding such humiliations at workplace constitute abetment to commit suicide.

This again pose a necessity to legislate laws which define terms like �humility�, �harassment� and �administrative powers of superiors and their ambit�. Further, article 23 acts as an shield preventing any form of forced labour and article 24 prevents employment of children below 14 years at hazardous places. Though, all these provisions under the Indian constitution protect interests of labor. However there is a dire need for a specific legislation as it would bring clarity on different legal aspects of bullying, ease the judicial process as well lead to better working environment.

Where And When Does Bullying Occur?

Bullying can occur anywhere, but it generally occurs at or near schools in places where adult supervision is limited or nonexistent.
Examples include:
  • Hallways
  • Cafeterias
  • Playgrounds
  • Buses
  • Locker Rooms
  • Classrooms before lessons
The when is a little harder to define than the where. In terms of when each bullying incident occurs, it can happen at any time two students are in proximity of one another, though again, this usually happens at or near school and consequently will likely happen during or around school hours. In terms of when in life bullying occurs, this changes as children age.

For instance, physical aggression starts out higher among students and then decreases consistently, with 18 percent of children aged 2-5 reporting experience with physical aggression, but only 10 percent of children aged 14-17 reporting it. On the other hand, harassment via electronic medium starts out very low, at only .5 percent for children aged 6 to 9 (and not at all for the 2 to 5 crowd). It then rises to 14 percent for those 14 to 17 years old.

Bullying And Suicide:

Bullying and suicide-related behavior are both complex public health problems. Circumstances that can affect a person's vulnerability to either or both of these behaviors exist at a variety of levels of influence�individual, family, community, and society.

These include:
  • emotional distress
  • exposure to violence
  • family conflict
  • relationship problems
  • lack of connectedness to school/sense of supportive school environment
  • alcohol and drug use
  • physical disabilities/learning differences
  • lack of access to resources/support.
If, however, students experience the opposite of some of the circumstances listed above (e.g. family support rather than family conflict; strong school connectedness rather than lack of connectedness), their risk for suicide-related behavior and/or bullying others�even if they experience bullying behavior�might be reduced. These types of circumstances/situations or behaviors are sometimes referred to as �protective factors.�

In reality, most students have a combination of risk and protective factors for bullying behavior and suicide related behavior. This is one of the reasons that we emphasize that the relationship between the two behaviors and their health outcomes is not simple. The ultimate goal of our prevention efforts is to reduce risk factors and increase protective factors as much as possible.

The bottom-line of the most current research findings is that being involved in bullying in any way�as a person who bullies, a person who is bullied, or a person who both bullies and is bullied (bully-victim)�is ONE of several important risk factors that appears to increase the risk of suicide among youth. In the past decade, headlines reporting the tragic stories of a young person's suicide death linked in some way to bullying (physical, verbal, or online) have become regrettably common.

There is so much pain and suffering associated with each of these events, affecting individuals, families, communities and our society as a whole and resulting in an increasing national outcry to �do something� about the problem of bullying and suicide. For this reason, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other violence prevention partners and researchers have invested in learning more about the relationship between these two serious public health problems with the goal of using this knowledge to save lives and prevent future bullying.

As school administrators, teachers, and school staff in daily contact with young people, you are uniquely affected by these events and feel enormous pressure to help prevent them in the future. The purpose of this document is to provide concrete, action-oriented information based on the latest science to help you improve your schools' understanding of and ability to prevent and respond to the problem of bullying and suicide related behavior.

Bullying And Suicide: Is It True?

A link does exist between bullying and suicide, but it is not as simple as assuming that a victim will contemplate or commit suicide. Rather, the situation stems from multiple factors. �Although kids who are bullied are at risk of suicide, bullying alone is not the cause. Many issues contribute to suicide risk, including depression, problems at home, and trauma history. Additionally, specific groups have an increased risk of suicide, including American Indian and Alaskan Native, Asian American, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth.

This risk can be increased further when these kids are not supported by parents, peers, and schools. Bullying can make an unsupportive situation worse.� This is primarily because bullying leads to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, both of which can contribute to suicidal thoughts, explains the CDC. While there is no conclusive evidence yet that bullying �causes� suicide, the close association between being bullied and having suicidal thoughts means parents, teachers and administrators should closely monitor bullying behavior so they can put an end to it, and should watch known victims closely.

Children, as well as adults, should be educated about the relationship between suicide and bullying, to help them understand (as bullies, as victims and as observers) that this is not a harmless behavior, but one with serious consequences. Opening up the conversation and trusting kids with this information will help, not harm. In the next section we will talk about several other misunderstood aspects of bullying, in the hopes of dispelling harmful misconceptions.

What Are The Misconceptions About Bullying

�Bullying has taken a front seat in the media and in schools these days, but unfortunately media attention often leads to more misconceptions than it solves. Moreover, due to persistent inattention to the dangers of bullying through the 20th century, our cultural understanding of its true nature is somewhat limited by beliefs that it is �not that big a deal� or �between the bully and the victim.

Several other misconceptions persist, including ideas such as:
  • Adults can't do anything:

    They can. Teachers can watch bullies to deter behavior. Principals can discipline. Parents can report to schools, and should do so instead of contacting the child's parents first.
  • Boys are more likely to be victims:

    As discussed above, girls are more likely to be victims of emotional and cyber-bullying, while boys and girls are equally likely to experience physical abuse.
  • It starts with cyber-bullying:

    Actually it usually ends with cyber-bullying. Most bullies are not faceless enemies, but real people children meet at school. They may then progress to bullying through electronic means. Usually, however, if a child is being bullied, part of the process involves face-to-face interactions.
  • Kids just need to toughen up:

    This myth is left over from the old days, when �boys will be boys� and kids just needed to �work it out.� Knowing the harm bullying causes, however, this is misguided.
  • Bystanders don't have a role in bullying:

    They do. Always. Even if it is only giving the bully the audience he craves. But with training, observers could be taught to reduce bullying by noticing, reporting and intervening.
  • Bullies are popular:

    Not necessarily. Bullies may be unpopular or sidelined themselves, so adults shouldn't only look to the top of the pecking order.
  • It is obvious when a child is being bullied:

    In 2007 almost a third of kids in middle and high school reported experience bullying at school, but not nearly as many parents are getting these reports at home. And keep in mind that those numbers refer only to the kids actually reporting. It may not be obvious, so adults must try to make it easier for kids to report.
  • Bullying must be physical:

    Another persistent myth from the days of schoolyard brawling. Parents, teachers and administrators now know that bullying can come from many quarters, to tragic effect.
  • It's not anyone's fault:

    This may be true, and it may not be. However, parents have a responsibility to their children to ask about bullying, listen to what kids say, and report. Teachers have a responsibility to intervene, and administrators are responsible for creating policies that protect children. As a nation, we are responsible for looking out for our kids and legislating for change.

What Are The Lasting Psychological Impacts Of Bullying?

Unfortunately, the effects of bullying aren't temporary, but last long into adulthood, and vary depending on the role of the person in the bullying situation. The Victim The long-lasting psychological impacts stem directly from the short-term impacts that children experience as the result of being consistently bullied. Depression and anxiety tend to characterize their emotional outlook well beyond the bullying years, extending into their adult lives where they become chronic, sometimes lifelong, problems.

These issues make eating, sleeping, working, exercising and engaging in interesting hobbies � all the hallmarks of a full, balanced life � more difficult. They also make it more difficult to make and keep relationships, whether with friends or romantic partners. And accordingly, the conventional �sticks and stones� wisdom about what kind of bullying really causes lasting damage is backwards: It is actually emotional harm that lasts much longer than physical harm.

Especially during childhood, when bodily damage heals readily, the victim's self-image may be permanently maimed: �Bullying is an attempt to instill fear and self-loathing. Being the repetitive target of bullying damages your ability to view yourself as a desirable, capable and effective individual.� This results in the bully victim's inability to trust himself or herself as a capable individual.

In particular, this has effects during tough or difficult times, where the victim has been taught they are too weak or hopeless to persevere, and so they do not. This can have major repercussions for work, relationships and other trying life situations that require persistence and grit to overcome or succeed in. They also have difficulty trusting people, have reduced occupational opportunities, and grow into adulthood with the tendency to be loners.

They make fewer positive choices and act less often in defense of their own happiness, owing mostly to the lack of perceived control instilled in them during their childhood bullying. The Bully Bullies often grow up to be unhappy adults. Their methods of relating to the world around them often don't work very well in adulthood, where quick tempers and violent actions are generally shunned by society. They may have difficulty holding down a job, retaining friendships and maintaining romantic or even family relationships.

They may also be at greater risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviors, though this is more likely when they are bullied in addition to acting as a bully. However, most of the research that has been done has concentrated on the effects of bullying on those who get bullied rather than those who perpetrate the behavior, so reports are limited of the lifelong impacts on bullies themselves. However, it is indisputable that bullies are at greater risk for antisocial personality disorder.

Both Not surprisingly, those that both bully and were bullied at the same time display some of the most severe emotional handicaps in later life. Oftentimes bullies engage in learned behavior, which they were taught in the home by abusive parents, siblings, relatives or caregivers. They often remained depressed and anxious well into later life, and had a greater level of young adult psychiatric disorders even after researchers who conducted a study in JAMA Psychiatric, Adult Psychiatric Outcomes of Bullying and Being Bullied by Peers in Childhood and Adolescence, controlled for other issues.

According to the study, they are at even at even greater risk for long-lasting psychological disorders than being either a bully or being bullied on its own. And although this class of children, according to the study, had an elevated risk of family hardship at home, this was not the only defining factor.

Bully/victims also had elevated rates of childhood psychiatric disorders, agrophobia, panic disorder and generalized anxiety. Interestingly, when bully/victims were followed into young adulthood, they were at even greater risk of suicidality (suicidal or self-harmful thoughts) than pure victims. While only 5.7 percent of young adults who were neither bullies nor victims reported thoughts of suicide, a whopping 24.8 percent of bully/victims reported it.

They also had the highest levels of depression, anxiety and panic disorder. This indicates that something about the combined nature of both being a bully and being bullied is very harmful indeed. The Observers Many of the problems cited above for observers can leak into adulthood. Use and abuse of alcohol and tobacco can wreak havoc on bodies, and depression and anxiety can cause long-lasting problems with relationships, work and happiness.

Skipping school or dropping out can also affect success later life. This is an excellent reason to talk to children about the harms of bullying and ensure that they have useful, actionable ways to respond to a bullying situation when they see it. When children feel as though they can do something about unfair behavior, they avoid the issues that often attend helplessness, such as depression and anxiety.

Anti-Bullying Laws In India For Schools And Colleges:

In India there is no separate legislation to deal with bullying at school level. Bullying is prevalent at school level in India, especially in boarding schools. However, in 2015 HRD ministry directed CBSE schools to form anti-ragging committees at school level also putting severe punishments to students indulging in bullying and the punishment may vary to rustication in rarest of rare cases. There should be notice boards warning students from involving in ragging or bullying. The Raghavan committee report recommended that teachers and the principal shall be held liable if any act of bullying takes place in the school premises.

In the case of University of Kerala v. Council, Principal's colleges, Kerala & others[7] �Now the Question arises, why should the Indian penal laws not apply to a school? You may say that the school boys are only in late teens but do not forget that there are several crimes in various cities including murders which are committed by teenagers today�[8] These words raise a serious question on the safety of the youths of the country.

Similarly, UGC has laid guidelines to all the colleges across the country to follow anti-ragging rules in their respective universities and the universities which do not abide by such rules would be bring to task and even UGC could forfeit their recognition.[9]

The government of India enacted special regulation to curb bullying at higher education institutions: �UGC Regulations on Curbing the Menace of Ragging in Higher Education Institutions, 2009�. A student may also have criminal liability under different sections of the criminal procedure code of India.

Federal Anti-Bullying Protections

When it comes to bullying, state law typically has stricter timelines and protections than federal law. But federal laws offer specific protections that can benefit kids with learning and thinking differences:
  • The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) guarantees kids with IEPs the right to a free appropriate public education (FAPE). IDEA requires a school to act if bullying interferes with a child's FAPE.
  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 also guarantees kids the right to FAPE. Kids with 504 plans are covered by Section 504. If bullying interferes with FAPE for a child with a 504 plan, the school must act
  • Section 504 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) both prohibit discrimination at school against kids with disabilities, which can include kids with learning and thinking differences.
�When kids are bullied because they have a disability, the school must act. The differences in how federal laws may protect your child can be confusing.
It boils down to two key situations:
  1. Bullying that leads to a child being denied FAPE:
    If a child is bullied for any reason, and the bullying interferes with a child's FAPE, the school must act. Kids with IEPs and 504 plans are covered.
  2. Bullying that's based on a child's disability:
    If the bullying causes a �hostile environment��meaning the bullying is serious enough to cause the child not to participate in some aspect at school�the school must act. Any child with a disability is covered. Example of bullying that denies a child's


A child with dyslexia has an IEP and receives specialized reading instruction. Other kids start making fun of him because his family is low-income. The bullying makes the child feel ashamed. As a result, he stops coming to school and doesn't see the reading specialist. The child isn't being bullied because of his dyslexia. But the bullying is interfering with his FAPE.

When Bullying Laws Are Tricky?

On paper, laws against bullying are clear. In practice, though, they can be tricky. When schools have to investigate bullying is a tricky area. The law says that if the school knows about bullying, it must act.

But what if there's no formal complaint?
According to federal and most state laws, if a school even suspects bullying, it must investigate. For instance, if a teacher sees kids making fun of another child because she can't read, the teacher must report it. The school must look into the situation, even if the child hasn't said anything

Another tricky area?
What officially counts as bullying. Not all conflict is bullying. And there can be a difference between bullying and teasing. So how does a school decide if something is severe enough to count as bullying? In this case, a school should look at the definition and examples of bullying in its state anti-bullying law. In general, state laws have broad definitions that cover many kinds of unwanted, aggressive behavior.

So you may disagree with the school about whether something is bullying. If that happens, let the school know in writing why you disagree. Federal law is narrower. There's no black-and-white rule in federal law to decide whether bullying is serious enough to affect a child's education. So schools are required to look at several factors, including:
  • A decline in grades
  • Emotional outbursts
  • Behavioral issues
  • Skipping services provided in an IEP or a 504 plan
  • School avoidance
  • Avoiding extracurricular activities that the child likes

How Schools Can Stop And Prevent Bullying?

What exactly is a school supposed to do to prevent or stop bullying? There's no �one size fits all� or simple solution to stop and prevent bullying. But there are some best practices. These include:
  • Disciplining kids who bully others
  • Counseling or providing other services for kids who bully others
  • Having adult supervision, especially in common areas like hallways, cafeterias and playgrounds
  • Providing teacher and staff training on what bullying behavior looks like and how to respond
  • Providing formalized and explicit instruction for students on what behaviors are expected at school One approach that's gaining popularity is called positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS).
�PBIS uses many of the best practices above. It focuses on explicit teaching of what good behavior is. This not only can reduce bullying, but also school suspensions. Keep in mind that stopping bullying can't be at the expense of the victim. That means that if changes are made at school, the changes can't burden the child who's being bullied. For example, the school can't move a bullied child into a more restrictive environment to limit contact with the bully.

There is a lot of concern, even panic, about the ongoing problem of bullying and suicide-related behavior among school-age youth. Much of the media coverage is focused on blame and criminal justice intervention rather than evidence-based, action-oriented prevention. Public health researchers are continually seeking a better understanding of the relationship between bullying and suicide-related behavior as well as the related risk and protective factors that affect young people.

Increased awareness about what we do know, what we don't know, and what information is most helpful and applicable to prevention is crucial to your schools' efforts to protect students from harm. The good news is that we do have evidence-based, actionable information to help prevent bullying and suicide. As teachers, administrators, and school staff you have a vital and rewarding role to play by getting the word out and encouraging colleagues and communities to take action.

Knowledge is really most helpful if it informs action toward a positive change�in this case, prevention of bullying and suicide-related behavior. In your position�spending several hours a day with youth�you have the opportunity to put some of the best knowledge to work but little time to sift through reams of information. Hopefully, you will find the evidence-based suggestions in this document realistic and actionable in your specific settings.

  1. AIR 1997 SC 3011.
  2. AIR 1989 SC 1256.
  3. Ibid.
  4. AIR SC (1995)9 22 para.
  5. SCC (2012)9 734.
  6. ALD (Cri) (2010) 861 (2).
  7. (2011) 14 SCC 357
  8. Ibid.
  9. Section 2 UGC Regulations on Curbing the Menace of Ragging in Higher Education Institutions, 2009.

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