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The Catalan government has issued an apology over its inability to detect and respond to the situation of harassment suffered by the Sallent twins and which ended with the death of one of them last week. The spokesperson for the Catalan executive, Patrícia Plaja, offered "apologies on behalf of the entire Government", because a suicide or attempted suicide by a minor "is a failure of the system" and "the consummation of suicide of a minor, even more so".

Last Tuesday, the two sisters decided to end their lives by jumping from the third floor balcony of their home in the central Catalonia town of Sallent, which ended with the death of one of the siblings. At first, both the high school they attended and the Catalan education department affirmed that no school bullying had been detected, but as investigation of the case went on it became clear that one of the sisters was being bullied because she felt that she was a boy. That is to say, the young person had a transgender identity.

Promise that the investigation will go all the way

Speaking at the press conference after this Tuesday's Catalan cabinet meeting, the spokesperson offered "sincere apologies", in addition to admitting "desolation and concern for the seriousness of the specific case and for a general problem in society". "On behalf of the entire Government, I apologize, because it is obvious that something has gone wrong," she admitted.

When questioned about whether this case will lead to dismissals, the government spokesperson insisted that the executive will take the investigation of the matter to the end to clarify the facts; she stressed that it is necessary to detect what went wrong to have led to such extremely painful consequences, and she stressed that no case of harassment must be treated lightly and nor must the Sallent school that the two siblings attended be stigmatized.

Regarding the fact that the education authorities initially rejected the suggestion that it was a case of harassment, she admitted that the bullying protocol was not activated, and reiterated that there is an investigation open. "It's clear that everything failed as a system, but you have to look within the set of facts, to find what didn't work properly," she added.

Management of the situation

Despite admitting that the state of handling such cases "sounds bad" given this situation, the spokesperson sought to emphasize that cases of harassment of minors and problems associated with mental health have been a priority of this Catalan government since the beginning of the legislature; she recalled that the Education department has had a specific unit for the past two years to address situations of violence that students may suffer inside or outside the school environment; that two months ago the government presented a guide for dealing with suicidal behaviour in school centres, taking into account the data from a macro survey that showed a generalized rise in cases; and that an emotional well-being programme was approved this January to support school centres by telephone.

"The Government is acting diligently and in a planned manner", assured Patrícia Plaja, adding that just yesterday a new departmental coordination meeting was held to address the problem of emotional distress.

She admitted that the number of suicide attempts has multiplied, especially following the confinement caused by Covid, but also stated that it is a reality that goes far beyond Catalonia. "These are figures that continue to be low, lower than the countries around us", she added, assuring that Catalonia is a reference country in this area. "This is an issue for the country that challenges us all," she concluded.