Teenagers in Honduras face violence, bullying in schools
Half of the world’s teens experience peer violence in schools. For these students, school is no longer a safe space to learn.
School may be one of the most influential institution in children’s lives, ranking just below family and home. In the best of cases, schools are safe and encouraging spaces where children gain the knowledge and skills they need to navigate adult life. It’s also where children cultivate friendships and form peer groups – pivotal steps towards adult socialization. Every child should have the right to go to school and learn in safety, but for far too many young people around the world, school is dangerous. Around 150 million students from 13 to 15 years old have experienced peer-to-peer violence.
(Above) In the city of Puerto Cortés, Honduras, 16-year-old Geraldine has been bullied repeatedly at school. "I suffered physical abuse. I changed schools, but it went on,” she says. “I was hit hard in the face. Nobody said ‘I'm sorry’. I became depressed and started cutting myself,” she adds. “I thought schools were supposed to support you, not destroy you.”
Jairo (right), 13, hugs his brother Marvin, 7, in Choloma Municipality. Jairo is also bullied in school. "I'm hit in the back. They stick their foot [out] so I'll stumble and fall. It has happened since first grade," he says. “All I do is swallow the pain. I feel a hole in my heart.” Globally, more than one in three students aged 13–15 experience bullying, and about the same proportion are involved in physical fights.
In Villanueva Municipality, Victor Fernando, 17, looks in a mirror at his home. Victor was bullied about his sexual orientation. "I feel alone, weak and vulnerable,” he says. “They [the bullies] have tried to hit me. They provoke me but I don't do anything. My grades ... went down and I lost a year of school," he adds. Violence in schools significantly hinders student attendance, contributes to lower academic results and leads to higher drop-out rates.
Children with disabilities are also more likely to be singled out for bullying. In Puerto Cortés, Jose Angel (right), 14, who is autistic, has been bullied since his first years at school. His classmates would steal his belongings and make fun of him. Although he now goes to private school, Jose Angel still feels like an outcast and has refused to go to class for several months now.
Emely, 19, also in Puerto Cortés, was bullied up until the day she graduated. Born HIV negative, she was bullied because both of her parents had HIV. “The kids would pull me by the hair and say that I was an orphan because I had AIDS,” Emely says. “When I was 13, they wrote in the bathroom: ‘Emmy Nicolle Dubon has AIDS, do not hang out with her.’”
In Progreso, Ángel, 10, sits on a window ledge at his school. He has suffered both physical and psychological bullying. "[I] ... didn't do anything to him [the bully] but he keeps harassing me,” Ángel says. “But then I hit him back. The only thing I want is for him to leave me alone." Bullying and physical fights are just two of the many types of violence children face in schools.
Other forms of bullying students are subjected to are sexual attacks and gender-based violence. [NAMES CHANGED] Friends Nicolle, 13, Jennifer, 13, and Concepcion, 14, in Progreso, are being harassed by a 15-year-old schoolmate who is part of a criminal network that exploits young girls for prostitution. "And the worst," the teens say, "is that it doesn't help to change schools. The same [network is] in all schools here."
Carlos, 15, in Progreso, used to fight with other children. He was moved to his school's afternoon session to give him a second chance. This time, he’s the one being bullied by older peers. He gets beaten up at least once a week but doesn’t fight back. "I didn't want to be in that state of rage I was in before," he says. "Now I just want to do well in school."
In Villanueva, Elsa [NAME CHANGED], 16, was sexually harassed by her math teacher, who would grade her schoolwork incorrectly and threaten to flunk her. “He said: ‘If you want to pass my class you need to have sex with me or send pictures of your body,’" Elsa says. She changed schools instead. “I've lost all interest in math," she says. Teachers play a crucial role in reducing violence. Yet authority figures are far too often the source of fearful learning environments.
Students also routinely deal with corporal punishment and other degrading forms of discipline. In Choloma, Yester, 16, dropped out of school when he was 13. “[My teacher] … would review my notebook and if it didn't have my homework, she would twist my ear until I would fall on my knees,” he says. Yester now spends his days at home. “He can't get a job, and it is too dangerous out in the streets," his grandmother says.
Violence in schools puts bodies, minds and lives at risk. For some children, relentless and inescapable bullying, sexual assault or daily fear in school can lead to depression, anxiety and suicide. In Villanueva, Darwin, 16, sits in a classroom. His schoolmate Henry committed suicide in 2016 after being targeted by bullies. "I still can't get over it,” Darwin says.
Though violence against children is common, it is never acceptable – in school or anywhere else.