Bullying in America, the fine line between prevention and crime

EFE / The Voice of Michoacan

Between 50% and 70% of Latino and Caribbean students have been victims of some type of bullying, according to a Unicef ​​document that warns about the increase in violence in schools. Blows, injuries with objects, profanity, and even sexual abuse are setting off alarms in countries like Colombia, Peru, Paraguay, and Mexico, reinforcing the need for prevention.

The most recent Unicef ​​report “Violence against boys, girls and adolescents in Latin America and the Caribbean 2015-2021”, published in October 2021, indicates that boys and adolescent men experience bullying more frequently, except for bullying. of exclusion (being removed from the group, rumors spreading) that occurs more frequently among girls and adolescent women, in addition to the fact that every three children of school age have been victims of some form of bullying, including cyberbullying.

Photo: Víctor Ramírez, La Voz de Michoacán.

A phenomenon that is a reflection of several factors: social inequalities, domestic violence, intolerance, homophobia and the pandemic that prevails in the American continent today.

“This violence, attitudes and trends have been present since before covid-19. This is the case, for example, of Sergio Urrego, in Colombia, a case that made us activate the plans and that we are looking at the issue of school violence through gender and sexual orientation,” Mary Guinn Delaney, regional advisor for Education for the Health and Welfare of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco).

The case mentioned by Delaney occurred in 2014 in Colombia, where Sergio Urrego, a 16-year-old teenager, took his own life after having suffered constant discrimination from the directors of the school where he was studying because of his sexual orientation, thus opening a discussion about the way in which educational institutions treat sexual diversity. The case had criminal, legal and protocol consequences.

For the UNESCO representative, this is a problem to be addressed urgently by educational systems, which face great challenges to guarantee access to education, security and physical integrity in schools.

Now we have a project to support the Ministries of Education. It is clear that schools, teachers and students need help”

Mary Guinn Delaney, Regional Health and Wellness Education Advisor

The NGO Bullying Without Borders shows in its first world map, made between January 2021 and February 2022, that cases continue to increase. Specifically, six out of ten children suffer some type of bullying and/or cyberbullying every day.

“Bullying and cyberbullying are silent killers that kill 200,000 children and young people around the world every year. They are murderers who feed on three poisons: loneliness, sadness and fear”, states the NGO report.


Several hospitals in Latin America have had to deal with serious episodes related to bullying in recent weeks. One of those that generated the greatest social alarm was the sexual abuse that occurred in Paraguay with a child under 6 years of age by other older children. The case, which occurred in the school bathroom on April 26, was reported by the mother days later and forced the authorities to open an investigation.

In Lima, a 10-year-old minor had to be treated in the emergency room of the Children’s Hospital after being beaten by several classmates for being Venezuelan. They caused a cervical sprain and a stroke.

For the criminal lawyer and professor of Law at the Universidad del Rosario in Colombia, Francisco Bernate, bullying is not a crime because until the age of 16 (in Colombia) and up to 14 (in Paraguay and Peru) adolescents cannot be judged. as adults.

What happens from there backwards has no legal connotation. We have a series of guides and care routes that seek to generate a preventive impact against bullying, bullying and aggression among children, but it is the responsibility of the institutions”

Francisco Bernat, criminal lawyer

On the other hand, there are the parents, who “do not have many alternatives” and face a delicate situation with their children.” As Bernate explained to Efe, “many times the events do not occur inside the school” and then the educational centers disregard their responsibility.


In February of this year, Drayke Hardman, a 12-year-old minor, committed suicide in Salt Lake City (Utah, USA), due to bullying he suffered at school. His parents spread a moving letter on social networks in which they exposed the situation of his son and made visible the consequences of what happened.

For many children, going to school is a torment due to the environment that surrounds them and what they endure in silence for fear of telling what happens to them. To this must be added the lack of support from schools, which sometimes choose to minimize the seriousness of the events.

Delaney points out that in situations of minors with disabilities or who are immigrants, they face strong discrimination. For this reason, UNESCO works to “help students in countries with a high migratory flow that were not used to receiving a high flow of immigrants, such as Chile, to recognize differences” in culture and lifestyle.

Delaney warns about a growing problem in Latin America, such as gender orientation and identity. “Many times it is a more systematic violence and there is a silence on the part of the systems and adults, who do not respond even knowing what is happening.”


According to Bullying Without Borders, the country where the situation is the most worrying worldwide is Mexico with 180,000 cases a year, followed by the US, with 160,000 total cases and where 6 out of 10 children and adolescents suffer from bullying, especially of Hispanic descent. Meanwhile, Colombia ranks tenth, with 8,981 serious cases.

Recent episodes of highly violent bullying in the Colombian cities of Manizales and Bogotá have sparked a debate in this country about whether children under 14 who commit this type of action can be considered potential criminals.

Related content

In this regard, Bernate assures that it can happen, because they are individuals “who do not clearly know the limits, who do not respect the physical integrity of the other.”

But he points out that the solution “is not criminal repression” and recalls the case of the massacre at Columbine High School that occurred in April 1999, as a result of which the two boys who perpetrated the massacre are serving life sentences in prison. of adults.

More than a detention center for adolescents, the issue must go through “a public policy of prevention, education and training,” he stresses.