Asian Americans endure far more bullying at US schools than members of other ethnic groups, with teenagers of the community three times as likely to face taunts on the Internet, new data shows.
Policymakers see a range of reasons for the harassment, including language barriers faced by some Asian American students and a spike in racial abuse following the September 11, 2001 attacks against children perceived as Muslim.
"This data is absolutely unacceptable and it must change. Our children have to be able to go to school free of fear," US Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Friday during a forum at the Center for American Progress think-tank.
The research, to be released on Saturday, found that 54 percent of Asian American teenagers said they were bullied in the classroom, sharply above the 31.3 percent of whites who reported being picked on.
The figure was 38.4 percent for African Americans and 34.3 percent for Hispanics, a government researcher involved in the data analysis told AFP. He requested anonymity because the data has not been made public.
The disparity was even more striking for cyber-bullying.
Some 62 percent of Asian Americans reported online harassment once or twice a month, compared with 18.1 percent of whites. The researcher said more study was needed on why the problem is so severe among Asian Americans.
The data comes from a 2009 survey supported by the US Justice Department and Education Department which interviewed some 6,500 students from ages 12 to 18. Asian Americans are generally defined as tracing ancestry to East Asia, the Indian subcontinent or the South Pacific.
Officials plan to announce the data during an event in New York on bullying as part of President Barack Obama's White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
New Jersey parent Shehnaz Abdeljaber, who will speak at the event, said she was shocked when she saw her son's middle school yearbook in which not only classmates but also a teacher wrote comments suggesting he was a terrorist.
Abdeljaber soon learned that her son had endured similar remarks at a younger age but had kept silent. She complained to the school principal but has since pushed for workshops on bullying that involve teachers and students.
"We need a more creative approach and more interaction with the youth, empowering them to do something rather than just going through the framework of authority," she said.
The Obama administration has put a priority on fighting bullying. In March, the president joined Facebook for an online anti-bullying conference, where he warned that social media was making the problem worse for many children.
Duncan, the education secretary, warned that bullying had serious effects as it can lead to mental and physical health problems including dependence on drugs or alcohol.
Duncan also voiced concern about high rates of bullying at schools against gay and lesbians, an issue that has come into greater focus since a spate of suicides last year among gay teens who were harassed.
"We're seeing folks who somehow seem a little different from the norm bearing the brunt," Duncan said.
"We're trying to shine a huge spotlight on this," he said.
A number of Asian countries have also wrestled with bullying.
Japan stepped up measures in 2006 after at least four youngsters killed themselves in a matter of days and the education minister said he had received an anonymous letter from a bullied student who was contemplating suicide.