France is trying to stop cyber-violence in schools

France is trying to stop cyber-violence in schools

Dmitry Gorokhov

A small commune in the department of Haut-de-France in the north of the country was the scene of a drama that shook French society this fall. The suicide of a 12-year-old schoolgirl, ridiculed by other classmates on social media, has prompted France to consider taking urgent action to tackle school cyber violence.
Returning that day from college (this is how they call the stage of school for adolescents at the age of 11-15 in France), the girl, whom everyone knew in the quarter, took her own life. Rescuers, a social assistance team, and an ambulance helicopter that appea-red at the house were alre-ady useless. Later, in memory of the child, the White March was held in the city with posters: “I am Chanel”. Her grave in the city cemetery was buried in flowers for a long time. “A wonderful girl, beautiful, intellig-ent, she had a kind word for everyone,” one of the sch-ool teachers said at parting.
Since then, sadness has given way to shame. “We are all to blame for not hearing the child,” admit the neighbors in the block. Teachers shrug their shoulders. The girl did not leave a note, but those who met her now remember that almost every day she returned from school in tears. A third of the college students come from low-income families. The parents tried to dress the deceased no worse than their peers, but the child’s knapsack was not in good condition, eyewitnesses admit, he became the object of evil ridicule.
Just two weeks earlier, another schoolgirl in the same city had attempted suicide. “They continue to scoff at me even now, when I returned from the hospital,” she admitted to repo-rters, speaking of her classmates. Although access to TikTok, Facebook or Ins-tagram can only be obt-ained from the age of 13, many teens subscribe to so-cial networks, adding several years to themselves. From an early age, they are good at hiding on the Int-ernet, and usually such investigations are delayed. The case in Mulhouse, in t-he Haute Rhine departm-ent, was no exception, wh-ere a 14-year-old girl committed suicide in the fall.
Before and after lessons
According to a survey conducted by the Ministry of Education, 700,000 adolescents in the country are subjected to physical or psychological violence – one in ten. Authorities have banned the use of mobile phones in school, but after school, select victims are bombarded with the full force of verbal terror on social media. Not all children are capable of dealing with aggression alone. The ministry has allocated a special hotline number 3020 to receive complaints from such guys, but the effectiveness of this measure is still low. Volunteers who wished to become informants about the facts of aggression on the Web do not always help out either. President of the Republic Emmanuel Macron stated that “the bullying in schools and social networks continues, giving no mercy to those who have been chosen as victims.” He demanded to strengthen parental control over what children write on the Web. “We must continue to mobilize, because the persecuted children are often isolated and fearful,” Macron urged. “Shame has to change sides,” he said.
The French leader and first lady Brigitte Macron invited a group of children who suffered from aggression on social networks to the Elysee Palace. In the wake of this conversation, at the initiative of the head of state, a draft of a new law was prepared in a few weeks. It was co-authored by three political groups in the camp – the presidential movement Republic on the March, Democratic Movement and Act (Agir), led by Macron’s supporters. From now on, under the proposed articles of the law, school violence becomes a crime that entails imprisonment. Proposals to this effect have already been considered in the first reading by the National Assembly. Now they have been transferred from the lower house to the upper one – the Senate. Many deputies recommended taking additional educational and preventive measures.
Maximum punishment
Ervan Balanan, a co-author of the law, MP of the Democratic Movement, says the project should shock society. If it is adopted in parliament in the proposed version, school violence will be punished with three to five years in prison and a fine of € 45 thousand.If the crime led to the death of the victim, then the punishment increases to ten years in prison, and the amount of the fine rises to € 150 thousand.
“There are many measures, but this plane does not have a pilot to control the process,” critics say. Thus, the deputy of the Communist Party Elsa Faucillon proposes to shift the emphasis in the bill from “repressive reflexes” to educational measures.
Protests on the left
The opposition on the left, represented by the Socialist Party, warns against the adoption of the law on a hot head. “We do not want to criminalize teenagers and intensify repression,” MP Michelle Victory warned. But the ruling majority counts on the adoption of this act. “We will never accept the death of schoolchildren,” said Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer, who called the law “an important step” and recalled statistics that one in ten students faces bullying. “This is not about sending children to prison,” he assured. “The main measure is a warning.” After all, doctors, nurses and school psychologists will be trained on how best to help victims. The law also provides for staff training in monitoring and identifying such offenses.
In the Senate, consideration of the law is scheduled for January 12, but its adoption, skeptics fear, may be hampered by the election campaign. He is criticized from both the right and the left, including by influential non-governmental organizations. It is unlikely that a parity committee of the chambers will be able to approve it just three months before the presidential election. At the same time, some of its representatives called the law a “paper tiger” and predicted zero result at all. “It is not the best time to pass such a law before the elections,” warned member of the commission Jacques Grosperrin.
Will parliament be in time?
In addition, even if the government has relied on an accelerated procedure, there are serious doubts that the parliament will have time to complete the consideration of the document before the end of its work on February 28.
In the Senate, the largest faction in terms of influence is the Republicans, whose senators, as you know, have not yet discussed this issue in their circle. Political analysts believe that the election campaign of the party’s presidential candidate Valerie Pécresse could encourage Republican senators to support the law. The head of the central region of Ile-de-France and a former minister of higher education, she intends to pay special attention in her program to the problems of the school, which she calls “the French factory”.
Pécresse believes that the French school is in crisis. For example, France has one of the lowest levels of proficiency in mathematics among OECD countries. Some students leave primary school without actually learning how to count. The candidate proposes to “break the school dropout spiral,” which, in her opinion, is “a source of not only lagging but also lack of discipline.” Will her own project proposed by her help to strengthen not only the level of fundamental knowledge, but also to protect children from the omnipotence of social networks?

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