A les­son for anti-bul­ly­ing law

China Daily (Canada) - - LIFE -

Three Chi­nese stu­dents at­tend­ing a high school in south­ern Cal­i­for­nia will serve time be­hind bars for kid­nap­ping and as­sault­ing a fe­male class­mate in a high-pro­file bul­ly­ing case.

Zhai Yun­yao, Yang Yuhan and Zhang Xin­lei reached a plea deal with pros­e­cu­tors on Jan 5. The three 19-year-olds pleaded no con­test to crim­i­nal charges of kid­nap­ping and as­sault. Zhai, the prime cul­prit, faces 13 years in prison, Yang 10 years and Zhang 6 years, ac­cord­ing to a re­port in The Los An­ge­les Times. And they will be de­ported to China af­ter serv­ing their sen­tences.

The bul­ly­ing case, which came to light in­March 2014, has caused quite a stir in China. The case, the me­dia spec­u­lated, in­volved a dis­pute over a love af­fair and the tar­get of the three stu­dents, who sought the help of some other teenagers, was an 18-year-old fe­male class­mate sur­named Liu. The vic­tim tes­ti­fied that she was taken to a park, stripped, kicked, slapped and burned with cig­a­rettes. Her or­deal, she said, lasted more than five hours.

The plea deal was “the best res­o­lu­tion” as there is “too much of a risk to go to trial”, the at­tor­ney of one of the de­fen­dants was quoted as say­ing by the As­so­ci­ated Press. And pros­e­cu­tors agreed to drop the tor­ture charge un­der the plea deal.

The three stu­dents were “deeply shocked” af­ter learn­ing that what they as­sumed to be a “prank” was ac­tu­ally a felony in theUnited States which could lead to a life sen­tence, ac­cord­ing to me­dia re­ports. Judg­ing from their re­ac­tion, the three thought the max­i­mum pun­ish­ment they would get was de­merit points from their school. Worse, a par­ent of one of the stu­dents was also de­tained for try­ing to bribe pros­e­cu­tors into drop­ping the case.

The Cal­i­for­nia case shows how ig­no­rant Chi­nese stu­dents and par­ents are aboutUS laws, but it also serves as a ref­er­ence for sim­i­lar cases in China. Bul­ly­ing in­ci­dents are not rare in China’s schools. Bul­ly­ing cases have hit the head­lines from time to time; some­times per­pe­tra­tors have even up­loaded videos of their mis­deeds on the In­ter­net.

How­ever, fe­wof­fend­ers re­ceive proper pun­ish­ment in China. In most of the cases that do not in­volve se­vere phys­i­cal harm, the only “pun­ish­ment” of­fend­ers re­ceive is crit­i­cism from schools. As for par­ents, most of them con­sider bul­ly­ing in­ci­dents as “small fights” be­tween their chil­dren, and it is pre­cisely be­cause of such an at­ti­tude that bul­ly­ing cases have not de­clined in China.

Moral education is im­por­tant, but a spe­cial lawto deal with bul­ly­ing cases would be more ef­fec­tive. For ex­am­ple, led by theUS Depart­ment of Education, a Bul­ly­ing Preven­tion Steer­ing Com­mit­tee con­sist­ing of many other fed­eral de­part­ments is in place to guide ef­forts to end bul­ly­ing inUS schools. In fact, 46 of the 50US states now have their own anti-bul­ly­ing laws.

Per­haps China could learn from theUS in this re­gard, and theN­ational Peo­ple’s Congress, the coun­try’s top leg­is­la­ture, along with the Min­istry of Education, could

en­act a spe­cific an­tibul­ly­ing law.

An im­por­tant les­son to learn from the Cal­i­for­nia bul­ly­ing case is “joint li­a­bil­ity”. Zhang Xin­lei, who claimed to be a by­stander dur­ing the en­tire in­ci­dent, has also re­ceived se­vere pun­ish­ment. Bul­ly­ing is of­ten a group ac­tion, and with­out ac­com­plices like Zhang, in­ci­dents like the one in Cal­i­for­nia might not take place. So de­spite not be­ing the prime cul­prit, Zhang bears joint li­a­bil­ity and should re­ceive be­fit­ting pun­ish­ment.

An­other point to be noted is that though most of the bul­ly­ing cases in­volve mi­nors, who are usu­ally im­mune to crim­i­nal re­spon­si­bil­ity, judges in theUS have the right to treat them as adults if the crimes are se­vere or if they have crim­i­nal records.

Phys­i­cal wounds can heal with time, but men­tal trauma can con­tinue caus­ing pain for the rest of a bul­ly­ing vic­tim’s life. This is some­thing law­mak­ers ought to keep in mind while draft­ing leg­is­la­tion on bul­ly­ing.

The au­thor is an editor at China Daily. li­fangchao@chi­nadaily.com.cn

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