Ladies and gentlemen,
I believe in the fundamental importance of respect for life and human dignity. Each and every one of us has the right to experience himself or herself as a unique and valuable individual, and to feel secure and included in a community, whether at a day-care centre, at school, at work, or at play. No one should have to wake up every day with a feeling of dread, or with the fear of yet another day of humiliation and ill-treatment.
As a nation with a Christian heritage, Norway’s commitment to peace is one of the foundations on which we have built for centuries. This has become perhaps our most significant trademark. And we intend to continue our commitment to promoting peace. Peace between nations, peace between people. But peace cannot be achieved without respect and consideration for others, without a deep-seated awareness of the intrinsic worth of every man, woman and child.
Therefore I find it deeply disturbing that Norwegian children are subject to bullying at school. I am not talking about everyday disagreements or quarrels, or about pushing and shoving in the playground, but about brutal harassment that can damage a person for life. Many children have reported that adults are passive onlookers while children are being tormented. This is tolerance of the falsest kind. Adults must not stand by when they see someone being bullied – they must intervene.
As prime minister, it is my duty to give direction to the whole of Norwegian society, not just to individuals. My government is doing, and will continue to do, everything it can to prevent bullying and violence in schools and in other sectors of society. But why are schools so crucial in this respect? And why are schools such an appropriate arena for our joint efforts? There are several answers to these questions.
- Schools are the environment where the effects of bullying and violence are first seen.
- Schools are the places where our children spend a great deal of their time.
- Schools are an arena for sharing and discussing values both in a general way and as part of the curriculum.
- Schools are central for three important groups: teachers, parents and pupils.
- Schoolchildren are only 20 per cent of our population but they represent 100 per cent of our future!
Preventing bullying is first and foremost the job of us adults.
It is our duty to bring these matters into the open – to talk about them in public and in private – to identify the various types and faces of bullying, and to act on cases of bullying in every kind of environment.
It is our responsibility as adults to impress on the next generation the need to expose bullying and to fight against it in all its various forms and shapes.
The Government has taken a number of initiatives to mobilise adults to take responsibility and lead the way in putting a stop to the bullying of children all over Norway.
On behalf of the Government, and together with the Norwegian Association of Local and Regional Authorities, the National Parents’ Committee for Primary and Lower Secondary Education, the Union of Education and the Commissioner for Children, I signed a Manifesto against Bullying in 2002. Although this was nearly two years ago, I recall saying something in my speech that remains just as valid today:
“Today’s taboos are no longer death or sexuality. The strongest taboo today is against having clear ideas of right and wrong. Or even worse, against saying what is right and wrong clearly to other people, and stopping those who cross the line. The fear of being moralistic has become a fear of morals themselves, and as a result many people in our country feel that they have lost their way. The way forward will be difficult to find unless we can agree on basic values and where to set limits.”
By signing the Manifesto against Bullying we committed ourselves to actively ensuring that bullying does not occur among children and young people. We, the parties to the Manifesto, have joined together in pursuit of a common goal – zero tolerance for bullying. We have placed leadership at the top of the agenda: classroom leadership, school leadership and pre-school leadership. The Manifesto has particularly addresses the responsibility of adults – in pre-schools, schools, homes and leisure activities.
One of the main elements of the work under the Manifesto is a new amendment to the Norwegian Education Act regarding schoolchildren’s working environment. Pupils and their parents now have the right to participate more extensively and there is a better system for lodging complaints, while the tasks of the schools have been much more clearly set out.
Another important element of the Manifesto is to actively include children and young people, parents, employees, school leaders and school owners to ensure that this commitment is translated into a long-term framework for combating bullying at the local level.
Thirdly, schools are offered the opportunity to participate in various programmes that address bullying, programmes with documented effects, which really do make a difference.
In addition to countermeasures, we need more knowledge about what is actually happening, and we need more research. The Minister of Education and Research will discuss this in more detail in her remarks later today.
But schools are not the only places where bullying occurs. It happens before children even start school, in fact it happens wherever children and young people gather together. It is therefore vital that other sectors of society also take part in these joint efforts. Bullying is unacceptable no matter where it is practised.
Research shows that bullying exists even among small children. We therefore need to teach them, at a very young age, that kindness and respect are important values. To achieve this, information material for kindergartens staff has been developed. Hopefully, this will also draw the parents’ attention to the problem of bullying. The situation for the young disabled are given resources to unit youth clubs to speak about challenges that young disabled persons face. We hope this will prevent bullying and help integration.
Also within the sports movement there has been taken initiatives to promote fair play and the respect for each individual child and youth. A campaign was launched with the video “United against bullying” at the last national soccer match in Norway.
But the problem is not confined to school pupils and children. The Confederation of Trade Unions and the National Association against Bullying in the Workplace estimate that some 200 000 adults experience bullying at their place of work, half of them every day. According to the Norwegian Labour Inspection Authority, suicide in connection with bullying occurs more frequently than accidental death at Norwegian workplaces.
This must be stopped. Harassment at the workplace reflects a contempt for human dignity and equal worth. In my latest New Year address to the nation, I called for a campaign against bullying at the workplace, and invited representatives of employers’ and employees’ organisations, the Labour Inspection Authority and the government to co-operate on concrete measures to combat bullying and harassment in the workplace.
I am very pleased to report that the social partners have decided to make special efforts to combat bullying in the working environment. Our work with schools has shown us that it really does help to make a concerted effort to prevent people from being ostracised and harassed. In the course of a single year, many of the schools that have used programmes to systematically combat bullying have reduced its occurrence among their pupils by 50 per cent. There is every reason to hope that such efforts will be just as effective for adults in working life.
Statistics on the causes of sickness absence and disability indicate that psychological problems are being cited more and more often as a reason for absenteeism. We must heed this warning, and do what we can to reduce the incidence of bullying.
I believe that bullying – at school or at the workplace – is a question of values. It indicates a lack of empathy, which, in the final analysis, comes down to a lack of tolerance and respect for other people. Bullying is about how we treat each other on a day-to-day basis. At its deepest, most profound level, it is about human dignity.
This is why we have not only focused on measures to combat bullying, but also on initiating a broader effort to raise awareness of values. In 2002 the Government initiated a national project called “Values in Schools” to encourage and strengthen activities relating to values and value awareness in schools. About 120 schools have so far been given support for their work on values. Some of the projects cover entire municipalities, while others encompass several schools. We need to mobilise this kind of focus on values if we are to establish a basis for combating bullying.
Authorities, education and labour organisations or the public at large will never have the power to ensure that bullying is completely eradicated. We could never create such an environment. But we can create an attitude of zero tolerance. We can help to generate greater openness on this sensitive subject. We can give schools and workplaces the knowledge they need, and offer them tools for preventing and coping with bullying. Countermeasures will need to be entrenched in the individual institution, rooted in an understanding of what bullying is and fuelled by the motivation to be active to prevent it from happening.
Those of you attending this conference represent a number of different countries. The topics you will be discussing come under three categories:
- to identify the factors that cause school bullying and violence and document their consequences;
- to review policies designed to combat these problems and evaluate their effectiveness;
- to foster the creation of a network of researchers and centres of expertise on school bullying and violence.
This conference gives us an opportunity to share our knowledge and experience, to find out how others – researchers, policymakers and practitioners – have dealt with this problem, so that we can learn from each other’s successes and mistakes.
I feel that Norway has had a good deal of success with its strategy. I do not believe that we have yet found a way to put a stop to all bullying, but we are achieving agreement between the most important actors in the school sector on a common goal of zero tolerance for bullying. This is an international as well as a national problem, and we have much to learn from each other. Our national efforts must be used to create a set of global norms and principles, and this is our purpose in gathering here today. I hope and believe that this conference will lead to broad and enduring international co-operation in this field – not only between researchers, but also between policymakers and practitioners.
I wish you all the best of luck with your discussions – and with the follow-up activities to come. I hope your efforts here today and in the future will help to ensure that the children and young people of tomorrow will wake up every morning looking forward to, instead of dreading, a new day.