Several thousand parents, children and concerned citizens including the prime minister marched in a torchlight demonstration through the streets of Oslo and several other Norwegian cities Sunday evening, to protest the ongoing problem of bullying in Norwegian schools.
Bullying (called mobbing in Norwegian) has been a recurrent problem for decades, with several government ministers mounting repeated campaigns against it but mostly failing to solve the problem. Repeated media campaigns with endless stories about how bullying can ruin children’s lives have also failed to end bullying in Norway. School officials have been harshly criticized for failing to take victims and their parents seriously, and for failing to deal with those doing the bullying.
Ended in suicide
The situation reached a new climax recently when a 13-year-old boy named Odin Olsen Andersgård committed suicide after years of being bullied at school. His mother has gone public with his story, as have several other victims of bullying.
Among them was 14-year-old Villemo Hatland, who took the initiative to organize Sunday’s torchlit demonstration along with her mother. Her speech before the large crowd gathered in front of the Norwegian Parliament Sunday evening moved many to tears.
“This day is meant to show all of you out there who haven’t been heard, that we hear you,” Villemo said. “We believe you, and we listen.”
She added that “it is you adults who should set good examples, and you who must take us seriously. When we have finally dared to talk about what’s going on, it breaks our hearts when we’re not taken seriously.”
‘You are not alone’
Odin’s mother, Katrine Olsen Gillerdalen, also stressed that children must be able to believe they are being heard. “I have a dream that all children should be seen and that they should be heard,” Gillerdalen said. “To those of you who decide what kind of anti-bullying program should be used, I urge you not to waste time on those that haven’t worked. Use your precious time on our children.”
Education Minister Torbjørn Røe Isaksen of the Conservative Party, who’s among the latest government officials to address bullying in Norwegian schools, thanked those who have shared their stories and claimed that “some of the bravest people I’ve ever met are those who were victims of bullying. At the same time we’re out here marching, though, we know there are children who dread going to school tomorrow. We have a message for you: We see you, we hear you, you are not alone. There are many of us who want to take up the fight for you and with you.”
Similar torchlit marches took place in Kristiansand, Stavanger, Trondheim, Tromsø and Kirkenes. As many as 17,000 Norwegian children and youth are believed to be victims of bullying two to three times a month, according to a recent survey of school students in Norway.