A report compiled by Dr. Geoffrey Shannon, the Government’s special rapporteur on child protection, has recommended that cyberbullying be classified as a criminal offense in Ireland.
The Irish Times writes that the report, which is expected to be published this week, also puts forward recommendations for all schools to enact stricter disciplinary actions when it comes to cyberbullying and the misuse of social media.
Dr. Shannon says in the report, “Cyber-bullying has almost overnight created a readily accessible forum for bullies to target children with little or no regulation or sanction. Whilst there are some legislative provisions in being that might be interpreted in such a manner as to tackle this growing problem, a focused response is required.”
The report goes on to add, “When cyberbullying is being described as an epidemic, we need to examine why this is the case. Specifically, is there reticence to investigate complaints of cyberbullying?”
The move to classify cyberbullying as a criminal offense comes partially in response to a number of suicides over the past year that have been apparently linked to online harassment.
The report goes on to recommend amendments be made to the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act in order to include specific offenses of cyberbullying.
The report also moves to make homophobic bullying in schools a matter of child protection. This would require schools to address these issues and report them to social services, if necessary.
The report says there is scope for uniform disciplinary measures across schools to tackle the problem, as “schools have too much latitude to determine how to discipline students engaged in bullying.”
Fergus Finlay, the chief executive of Barnardos, said, “We have made significant progress in recent years but we still have a long way to go before we can say that we’ve really put children at the centre of the laws and policies that affect their lives.”