The adoption of specific anti-bullying legislation, particularly on cyberbullying, is a relatively recent phenomenon. The absence of specific legislation does not necessarily indicate a legal vacuum, since States may address bullying using current provisions in their constitutional, criminal, civil and educational law. In criminal law, this encompasses provisions concerning harassment, assault, disclosure of personal information and incitement to hatred. Civil law provides remedies such as taking action for defamation or harassment, and redress may also be sought through national Ombudsman’s institutions or data-protection agencies.
New Zealand has adopted the Harmful Digital Communications Act (2015), which criminalizes the sending of messages and the posting of material online that deliberately cause serious emotional distress or incitement to suicide. The legislation is designed to deter and prevent harmful communications, reduce their impact on victims and establish new systems for quickly resolving complaints and removing damaging online material. It provides a broad range of court-ordered remedies, including: taking down material; publishing a correction or an apology; giving the complainant a right of reply; or releasing the identity of the source of an anonymous communication.
In other countries, remedies have been established enabling victims of bullying to initiate civil proceedings or to seek protection orders, as well as measures prohibiting communication with a specified person, restricting the use of means of electronic communication or confiscating, temporarily or permanently, electronic devices used for cyberbullying.
Legislation may involve the establishment of a dedicated body to tackle cyberbullying, including the investigation of complaints, setting standards for online safety, liaising with Internet intermediaries and end users responsible for generating content to find a swift resolution to complaints or issuing formal requests to Internet intermediaries or end users to remove material.
In Australia, the Enhancing Online Safety for Children Act (2015) established a Children’s eSafety Commissioner to administer a complaints system for cyberbullying material, providing for the rapid removal from social media of damaging material targeted at a child while also promoting online safety for children.
In Japan, the Promotion of Measures to Prevent Bullying Act (2013) requires schools to establish groups composed of teachers, staff and experts in psychology, child welfare and related fields to implement bullying prevention measures. Schools are also obliged to strengthen their capacity to counsel and consult with children and young people.
In the province of Ontario, Canada, school board requirements for student safety, including bullying prevention and intervention are set out in The Education Act. Amendments made to the Education Act (Bill 212, Progressive Discipline and School Safety Act, 2007) added bullying to the list of activities leading to a possible suspension. The Progressive Discipline and School Safety Act, 2007 combined discipline with opportunities for students to keep learning with a greater emphasis on prevention and early intervention.
Furthermore, the Keeping Our Children Safe at School Act, 2010 requires all board employees to report serious student incidents (e.g. bullying based on homophobia). All board employees who work directly with students are required to respond to inappropriate and disrespectful student behaviour (e.g. homophobic or sexist comments).
The Accepting Schools Act, 2012, which is the first of its kind in Canada has a comprehensive, evidence-based definition of bullying, including cyber-bullying. It creates legal obligations for boards to have policies to foster positive school climates and take measures to prevent and address inappropriate student behaviour. The legislation and its related policies make it clear that bullying and discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, sex, race, disability or any other factors are unacceptable in Ontario’s schools.