As I reflect on the global impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the devastating potential effects of bullying on our children and young people, I am reminded of the need for kindness, compassion and patience in our society.
To this end, I proudly support this year's local Anti-bullying theme, 'Choose Kindness'.
The act of bullying can negatively impact children or young people's physical, emotional, social or psychological health—the effects of which are oftentimes carried over into adulthood.
Following the emergence of the COVID 19 virus in 2020, students' internet use has significantly increased, with many spending countless hours engaged in online learning activities or connecting with friends and loved ones.
While internet use can be quite beneficial, it also broadens the risk of exposure to cyber-bullying.
The growing risk of exposure to cyber-bullying coupled with students' increasing vulnerability to feelings of depression and anxiety as a result of the COVID 19 pandemic, not only requires intervention by trained mental health professionals but necessitates acts of kindness from others with whom they interact.
The Ministry of Education stands resolute against bullying of any kind. As such, we are committed to ensuring that our schools develop a welcoming, supportive and inclusive learning environment that promotes the well-being of all students and staff.
In November 2020, the Education Council approved the National Anti-bullying policy for school students. The policy sets out schools' responsibilities to counter bullying, establish consistent expectations and promote an understanding of all bullying-related issues.
Since its introduction, all of our government schools and more than 70 per cent of independent educational institutions have used this critical document as a framework for developing their own anti-bullying policies.
It is my fervent hope that by implementing these individualised school policies, students and parents will feel supported when they are confronted with incidences of bullying and schools' message that bullying will not be tolerated will also be clearly conveyed.
The Cayman Islands Government is further committed to delivering supporting legislation by amending the Education Law, 2016, to include the National Anti-bullying Policy and developing Anti-bullying (Schools) Regulations.
As Anti-bullying month 2021 draws to a close, I applaud all those involved in promoting this all-important initiative and urge others to reject bullying and instead choose kindness and compassion in all their interactions.