January 8, 2014
The number of children seeking help for racist bullying increased sharply last year, as campaigners warn that the heated public debate about immigration is souring race relations in the classroom. More than 1,400 children and young people contacted ChildLine for counselling about racist bullying in 2013, up 69 per cent on the previous 12 months. Islamophobia is a particular issue in schools, according to the charity, with young Muslims reporting that they are being called “terrorists” and “bombers” by classmates.
The rise in children needing help for xenophobic bullying coincides with rising political hostility to immigration – especially in the lead-up to this month’s lifting of restrictions on Romanians and Bulgarians entering the UK.
In 2011, just 802 children approached the charity seeking help for racist bullying.
Sue Minto, head of ChildLine, said: “There’s so much more of a focus in the news at the moment about immigrants… it’s a real discussion topic and children aren’t immune to the conversations that happen around them. Some children are being told, even if they’re UK born, to pack your bags and go back where you belong. It is very worrying, it’s a big increase. This past year, it really seems to be something children and young people are suffering with.”
The charity’s report found that the majority of the racist bullying affecting children was happening at school and many of those calling ChildLine for counselling say teachers ignore the situation or make it worse with clumsy interventions.
James Kingett, of the charity Show Racism The Red Card (SRTRC) which seeks to combat racism, said: “We work with around 50,000 young people every year and issues around Islamophobia have been very prevalent over the past 12 to 18 months. That idea that all Muslims are terrorists or bombers is a particular problem. We’re getting that from kids with no Muslim classmates through to those in diverse schools with many Muslims.”
Some actions taken by the school made things worse, some children said. For example, racist bullying being discussed in assembly simply advertised it and led to increased abusive behaviour. While girls are ordinarily more likely to approach ChildLine about bullying, more boys get in touch about racist abuse. Of the calls and online counselling sessions, 52 per cent involved boys, 32 per cent girls and 16 per cent were gender unknown.
Mr Kingett said that although the rise in racist bullying complaints was worrying, it at least indicated that children were prepared to seek help about their problems.