French school bullies now face a move, not the victims, thanks to new law

French school bullies now face a move, not the victims, thanks to new law

The French government has adopted new measures to help protect school children who are victims of bullying.

A new decree issued this week by the Minister for Education, Gabriel Attal, means that bullies could be moved to a new school, where previously it was more likely the victim would be relocated. The new rules also provide for the possibility that cyberbullies at a different school than the victim could also be punished.

This new measure "sends a strong signal to the national education system and to parents", says Wilfrid Issanga, director of the ALCHM association, which fights against bullying and child abuse. "I think the current Minister has taken the bull by the horns."

'Zero tolerance'

School bullying was made a national priority after the suicide in May of Lindsay, aged 13, a student in Pas-de-Calais, in northern France. The response to bullying at school must be "relentless", said Minister Attal, who has already mentioned this measure on several occasions.

Associations that campaign against school bullying have been waiting for more robust measures for a number of years. Previously, they argue, forcing a bullied child to change schools could feel like a double penalty: not just for the child but for their parents too.

In some rural areas, this could create untenable situations where the victim ended up in a school much further from home, Wilfrid Issanga tells Euronews. "If there's a rotten tomato in a crate of healthy ones, you remove the bad one, you don't remove the good ones."

"We need to send a strong signal to the parents [of bullies], it's up to the parents to deal with the problem because the school cannot take the place of the parents."

In March 2022, bullying at school became a criminal offence punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment and a fine of up to €150,000 in the event of suicide or attempted suicide on the part of the victim of bullying.

Harassment is still a silent issue

According to a recent survey by the French Ministry of Education, 6.7% of secondary school pupils in France reported having been subjected to 5 or more incidents of repeated violence in the spring of 2022.

Silence often remains the main obstacle to any solution in many cases of harassment. "Many families struggle in silence and we don't hear them," and there are even more children who struggle alone, explains Wilfrid Issanga.

"This decree is an excellent step forward, but we'll have to wait and see what really changes on the ground," he concludes.

Bullying at school is a global scourge: according to the Atlasocio website, nearly 130 million pupils aged between 13 and 15 worldwide (ie: more than one in three) are victims of bullying at school.

In France, minors who are victims of bullying can call the 3020 and of cyberbullying the 3018. 7 days a week, from 9 am to 11 pm, a dedicated team of psychologists, legal experts and specialists in digital tools is on hand to advise and intervene, particularly with social networks, to have content removed within a few hours.