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Sunday, August 29, 1999 Published at 17:40 GMT 18:40 UK


Education

Primary school bullying 'on increase'

The charity can only answer 3,500 out of 15,000 calls a day

Bullying at primary school is forcing up the number of children calling a national helpline, figures released by a charity suggest.

Counsellors at ChildLine's 24-hour phoneline reported a 12.5% increase in calls from schoolchildren aged 11 and under, during the period from April 1997 to March 1998.

Just under one third of the calls were from children complaining about bullying, leading experts to fear that more young children are suffering without feeling able to tell parents or teachers.

A spokeswoman for the charity said: "We are particularly concerned at the high number of calls from young children complaining about bullying - too many are carrying the double burden of being bullied and keeping silent."

'They punch me'

One nine-year-old boy called to tell counsellors he had tried to commit suicide by jumping from a tree as a result of bullying.

"They punch me, slap me about and pull my hair. I tried to hide my dinner money from them but it has made it worse - I can't take it much longer," he said.

ChildLine, launched by TV presenter Esther Rantzen, is launching a fundraising campaign to help counsellors answer more of the calls they receive.

Only 3,500 of the 15,000 calls a day to ChildLine can be answered due to lack of funds.

During the 1997-8 period 18,000 children of primary school age called the charity, 2,000 more than the previous year.

The charity said the figure fitted into the general trend, with all calls increasing by more than 10% each year.

Some 30% of younger children complained about bullying, compared to 17% of children of all ages.

Tip of the iceberg

Other issues raised were sex abuse, divorce and physical abuse in the home with twice as many boys (23%) as young girls (11%) complaining of being beaten at home.

Valerie Howard, ChildLine chief executive, said: "Every year the number of young children calling us increases, but we realise these calls are just the tip of the iceberg.

"Many children tell us that the ChildLine counsellor is the first person they have spoken to about what is happening to them - some may have remained silent for months, even years, before finally plucking up the courage to call."

The charity is launching a range of fundraising badges featuring characters created by children's books illustrator Raymond Briggs.



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