Bullying behaviour is a serious problem among school age children and young adults. Bullying can be defined as any form of abuse of power, whether real or perceived, which is levelled against another person and includes physical acts of violence, purposeful unfriendliness, spreading of false rumours, verbal abuse, cyber-bullying as well as many other forms of emotional mistreatment.
Being bullied makes young people insecure and has a big mental and emotional impact. Children who are bullied can suffer physical injury or can suffer from other potentially long-term effects such as constant anxiety and stress, sleep disturbances, poor academic performance, social discomfort and as demonstrated by the recent incident in Limpopo, bullying may also lead to suicide.
Since bullying has such overreaching consequences for the victims, there should also be consequences for the bullies themselves as well authorities who fail to protect children from bullying.
Schools, as the place where bullying usually occurs, should take measures not only to prevent bullying but also to deal with reported bullying incidents. The South African Schools Act 84 of 1996 stipulates that public schools’ governing bodies must have a code of conduct in place which provides for a disciplinary plan and appropriate punishment for bullies. Complaints of bullying must be investigated immediately and addressed. The bully must be confronted privately and his or her parents must be contacted. Lastly, the school must continue to monitor the situation.
The state, and in some cases a particular school, can be held liable for any damage, injury or loss suffered by a learner at a school if the school was aware of the specific learner being bullied and failed to take appropriate measures to address the situation.
Depending on their ages, bullies can also be held criminally liable for their acts and can be charged criminally for the offence which may include assault, intimidation, murder, culpable homicide, and malicious damage to property, depending on the facts of each case.
The Child Justice Act 75 of 2008 (the Act) specifies how children are dealt with once arrested and detained. The child offender must, of course, be kept separately from adults, must be detained with other children of the same sex, and must be protected from ill-treatment.
Although the Act places more emphasis on restorative justice, which means that it places more importance on trying to rehabilitate the offender, there needs to be a balance also in making sure that the child offender is punished for his or her actions. To that end, the court may also impose jail time on the child offender.
This year a 16-year-old pupil from KwaZulu-Natal was sentenced to 3 months in prison after missing her court appearance for assaulting a fellow pupil last year in another incident that was caught on video and went viral on social media.
There is, of course, a lot more that still needs to be done to combat bullying and to ensure serious consequences for bullies, especially where it results in tragic consequences. However, there are some remedies available for victims of bullying.
If you or your child have been subjected to bullying, please feel free to contact us for assistance.