Sweden prepares new school bullying laws

(AFP) - Sweden is preparing legislation aimed at curbing school bullying, putting the onus on academic institutions to prevent the occurrence and making it easier for students to take their school to court if it fails to protect them, officials said on Thursday.

Education Minister Ibrahim Baylan presented the bill to the legislative council on Thursday, and it is expected to be submitted to parliament in September, a ministry spokeswoman told AFP.

Bullying is a widespread problem in Sweden, where many students complain about being ostracized or picked on by groups of classmates. More often verbal than physical, bullying is a high-profile issue with politicians and authorities often speaking out about the need to find ways to combat the problem.

The draft law calls for a “ban on discriminatory and other offensive treatment of children and students in kindergarten, primary and secondary school, and adult education,” Baylan wrote in an article outlining the law in Sweden’s paper of record, Dagens Nyheter.

Stressing all students’ equal rights, the bill “puts the burden of proof on the schools. If the schools cannot prove that they followed the law, the authorities … will be able to help a student take their school to court,” Baylan said.

Schools will also have to pay for any damages, “such as destroyed clothes or bicycles.”

Sweden’s current anti-discrimination laws do not apply to schools, Baylan said, adding that he hoped the new law would go into effect in early 2006.

“No child, youngster or adult … should have to be subjected to any form of discrimination, harassment or other offensive treatment,” he stressed.

Students are often bullied by other students but also by teachers and other school staff, he pointed out.

The article in Dagens Nyheter was co-signed by two members of parliament from the Left Party and the Green Party, which together with the ruling Social Democrats hold a majority in parliament.

In 2001 Sweden’s Supreme Court heard a case in which a young woman who had been bullied at school sued her municipality for damages, arguing that authorities had failed to provide her with a proper environment for learning.

She said the bullying that began in the seventh grade became so unbearable that she felt forced to drop out in the ninth grade. The court rejected her case, saying the school had done what it could to help her and the municipality could therefore not be held responsible.